By Saul Roth
As previously noted, new police recruits undergo extensive evaluation. After the evaluations, the police recruit goes through police academy and a probation period. Two occupations with similar training standards are firefighter and military personnel. Violanti (2010) completed a study comparing these three occupations and incorporating other experts’ studies. He overviews other experts’ studies of police suicide statistics. One study by Vena (1986) showed that in Rome, Italy the police suicide rate to be almost two times that of the general population. Additionally, Darragh (1991) revealed military police and other military security force personnel to have an increased suicide rate over other military personnel (as cited in Violanti, 2010). The Westphalia Police Department in Germany has seen an increase of suicides over the past several years. In Quebec Canada, Chabonneau completed a study in 2000 and found police suicide to be twice that of the general public. The most suicides were among the 20 to 39-year-old range (Violanti, 2010). Furthermore, a study of suicide among Norwegian police officers by Berg in 2003 was very startling: All 3,272 officers were requested to participate in the study. Twenty-four percent of the officers reported that life was not worth living. More than six percent seriously considered suicide. Almost 1% had attempted suicide (Violanti, 2010). I myself was a United States Air Force security policeman and recall at least one suicide of a military policeman during my service. As a member of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, I saw reports on military suicides. I recall some of these suicides of personnel from the security police squadrons.
Since the police go through extensive evaluation before being hired, these findings make sense. Firefighters go through a similar evaluation as police before they enter the fire academy. From my experience in the military I know that military personnel go through the Armed Forces Vocational Battery, a written test and a medical exam, but no psychological testing. In fact, the only time psychological evaluation is completed on a military candidate is if he or she has records of psychiatric history. Thus, the military is perhaps more representative of the general public.
From my experience in the military I know the military has an intense job when deployed overseas to a war zone. Many service personnel come back with PTSD and other psychiatric difficulties. Many of the suicides are related to wartime service. The military did have a suicide problem prior to the 2001. The U.S. military is chiefly involved in training for what might happen. Given that there are four different branches to the U.S. military, it would be interesting to know the suicide rate of the different services. The Coast Guard provides a law enforcement type function, yet it seems as though it would be the least stressful of the services. The Army pulls from the largest pool of the general population. The Marines seems like the most stressful of the services. There are some operational jobs on base similar to what you would find in a small town. Darragh (1991) has already demonstrated that military police have a higher rate of suicide in the military.
As a police officer I visited firehouses. The firefighter’s position is similar to that of military personnel in that they are both on standby waiting to be called for action. When they do respond to a bad fire, it is a horrific experience. However, bad fires are not commonplace. There is a lot of down time in the fire department. During that down time, the firefighters experience a lot of camaraderie. They sleep in the firehouse and cook dinners together. There is usually a physical fitness facility where the firefighters can work out. Firefighters in New York City change shifts with other firefighters and work extended shifts. These shifts allow for more time off. The firefighters can use this time off to relax, pursue hobbies, or work at another job to help them financially. On Long Island, most fire departments are volunteers. These men and women only respond to a fire when they are called from their home.