By Saul Roth
Suicide is a problem for everyone in society. It is a permanent solution to temporary problem (Kelly & Rich, 2006). After reading and studying the data and peer-reviewed articles, I do believe that the stress encountered in the police department leads to police officer suicides. The number of police suicides every year is about double that of police officers of the rate of officers who die in the line of duty. Suicide and police work is very complicated, and it is impossible to derive an exact percentage or an exact number of police officers that kill themselves because of stress of the police work.
The police suicides that the employee in my interview discussed were all related to domestic situations. The officers bring home the problems of their work every day. There is shift work that takes officers away from family life. There are officers that self-medicate with alcohol. The stress becomes unbearable for some and a gun is always close by for the police officer to use.
The suicide in my precinct a few years ago was by an officer that had a medical condition, which may have been caused or exacerbated by the job. My thesis showed how police officers’ reactions to stress can cause different medical reactions in the officer: Flight and fight responses, changes in heart beats and blood flow, and increases in cortisol, epinephrine, norepinephrine, and dopamine levels (Anderson et al., 2002). These and other reactions can cause medical conditions in police officers, which may lead to depression and eventually suicide. It is quite possible that the officer at my precinct had a police stress-related ailment.
Furthermore, PTSD is a very large problem in police departments. This condition brings on symptoms such as depression, anxiety, and nightmares. An officer experiencing symptoms of PTSD can be involved in any of the other stresses in police work. Officers suffering from PTSD may self-medicate with alcohol and experience family stress because of the PTSD, alcohol, or both. Again, the stress can be unbearable for the officer and he or she may resort to suicide.
There is a very good chance that Lt. Walsh committed suicide because of the undue pressures put on him by the Nassau County Police Department. The administrative stress from chief to police officer has increased over the years, and I believe that this stress can cause illness and depression. These are conditions that may eventually lead to suicide. Police officer suicide, however, does not have to be directly related to administrative stress itself as what occurred with Lt. Walsh. Indirectly, the conditions the police department creates can cause stresses that eventually lead to police suicide.
In addition, police officers, like politicians, are always in the public’s watchful eye. Though police officers are on stage every day, not all officers have the personalities of politicians and actors. When incidents do not go according to plan and the officer finds himself scrutinized by the press and upper levels of management, the officer can be put in a situation that he or she is not emotionally capable of handling. Such was the case of Lt. Pigott of the NYPD Emergency Service Unit discussed earlier in this thesis.
In 1984, I was involved in an altercation and pushed onto the subway tracks. There was a possibility of an approaching train and I was very concerned of what the press would do. It was a front page New York Post article. Luckily for me, the press painted me in a good light. I began to receive request from television news stations for interviews, though I denied them all. I shut myself in the house for days after. I could not imagine what Lt. Pigott went through before he committed suicide.
The debate continues if suicide is a problem in the police department. I believe it to be no coincidence that the military still struggles with suicide, as do police departments with addressing this problem. I believe that the military and the police departments do as little as they can to keep from being sued in state and federal courts. Lt. Walsh’s wife took the Nassau County Police Department to federal court, arguing that there was insufficient training on suicide. She lost the case on the premise that the Nassau County Police Department has suicide training during the police academy (Eastern District of New York, 2010).