New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal was leaving a holiday police luncheon in 2018 when a police officer Pablo Santiago greeted him in Grewal’s native language of Punjabi. Grewal agreed to join Santiago for volunteer work cooking food at a Sikh temple, but Santiago, 42, committed suicide three weeks later. Inspired by the incident, Grewal created the New Jersey Resiliency Program for Law Enforcement, a program that trains officers to handle the stress of police work, the Wall Street Journal reports. New York City created a similar program the same year to provide better psychological support to officers. Officials in both places say more officers are taking advantage of therapy.
Police and mental health experts say support programs for officers are critical amid public outcry over the death of George Floyd. Dr. Michael Bizzarro, director of clinical services for first responders at New Jersey’s Penn Medicine Princeton House Behavioral Health, said many officers were lauded for their work during the pandemic. “In March, April, and May, they were heroes,” he said. “Now they are being seen as villains.” Blue H.E.L.P., a nonprofit that advocates for more services for law-enforcement members to prevent suicides, says that the number of suicides involving law-enforcement members jumped from 142 in 2016 to 230 in 2019. The group has so far recorded 90 suicides nationwide for 2020. In New Jersey, Santiago was a detective for the Mercer County Sheriff’s Office. His wife, Jennifer, and his colleagues said he never revealed any problems before killing himself.