The 2019 number was higher than all other line-of-duty deaths combined.
“I’m really hoping that 2020 will be the year this turns around,” Karen Solomon, the group’s co-founder, told ABC News. “I’d love to see suicide prevention receive the same efforts we put forth for traditional line-of-duty deaths.”
“While it’s disheartening to see these numbers rise, we can’t be sure that suicides are on the rise or if they are being reported more accurately,” said Solomon. The organization, which allows individuals and agencies to report officers’ suicide deaths on its website, says this is the fourth year it has collected data.
The organization’s website reports 172 officer deaths due to suicide in 2018, 168 in 2017 and 143 in 2016. Citing the Officer Down Memorial Page, Inc., Solomon said 132 officers were killed in the line of duty in 2019, including deaths due to 9/11 illness and heart attacks.
Blue HELP hopes to help lower the number of suicide deaths with advocacy work, including increasing the availability of mental health resources for officers across the U.S.
This summer, three New York City police officers died by suicide in a 10-day period, prompting Police Commissioner James O’Neill to encourage fellow officers to not be afraid to seek help.
“This is a mental-health crisis,” O’Neill tweeted. “And we – the NYPD and the law enforcement profession as a whole – absolutely must take action. This cannot be allowed to continue. Accepting help is never a sign of weakness. In fact, it’s a sign of great strength.”
“The tempo for the New York City Police Department is unforgiving–job demands, financial restraints and living in New York is a challenge,” Jon Adler, the former Bureau of Justice Programs director at the Department of Justice and a former law enforcement officer in New York, told ABC News in October.
What compounds the tragedy is the little help given to the survivors.
While police departments and other government agencies increasingly are acknowledging the growing mental health crisis among police officers and first responders, less attention is paid to the families and spouses who are left behind.
“Too many people take that stigma to heart and that stigma then passes on to the family, when it’s not the family’s fault,” said Solomon. “They shouldn’t be penalized. They shouldn’t suffer.”