Fifteen California Highway Patrol workers have taken their lives since September 2003, a rate far higher than the average for other police agencies or the population as a whole, says the Sacramento Bee. “I’m taken aback,” said Robert Douglas of of the National Police Suicide Foundation, which promotes suicide prevention and training in law enforcement agencies. “I haven’t seen a cluster like that.” The patrol has found no common thread among the suicides. Some officers were dealing with problems at home, others facing discipline at work. In two of its eight divisions, the patrol has trained supervisors, managers, and union representatives to recognize the signs that an employee may be contemplating suicide, as well as risk factors, such as marital problems or pending disciplinary action.
One study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry by Cornell University researchers found that the suicide rate among New York City police officers over two decades was slightly lower than for New York City residents. Other studies have found higher rates among police. Cornell researchers wrote that a rate close to the general population’s could indicate a problem, because police go through rigorous psychological screening that would be expected to weed out those prone to suicide. By any measure, the California Highway Patrol’s suicide rate is unusual. Over the past three years, it’s been at least four times the national average. Since 2005, it’s spiked to 7 1/2 times that number. Experts cite many causes for police suicides, most related to the pressures of the job and the ready availability of the most common means: a gun.