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About 184 law enforcement officers die by suicide each year: Report

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(NEW YORK) — More than 1,200 of the nation’s public safety personnel died by suicide over a seven-year period, according to a report released by a nonprofit organization that tracks law enforcement suicides.


From 2016 to 2022, there were 1,287 public safety personnel — identified in the report as law enforcement and corrections officers — who died by suicide, according to the First HELP and CNA Corporation report obtained by ABC News.

First HELP is an organization that tracks law enforcement and first responder suicides. It partnered with data scientists from CNA Corporation, another law enforcement nonprofit. Center for Naval Analyses — also known as CNA — informs the decisions of Navy, Marine Corps and Department of Defense leaders and is the only federally funded research and development center for the Navy.

The nonprofits collected the data from several sources including suicides reported on the First HELP website, news articles, First HELP social media accounts and direct contact with families and friends of those who have died by suicide.

“Future analyses of these data can deepen our understanding of the factors associated with suicide among public safety personnel and facilitate comparisons of suicide rates across various geographies, states, races, sexes, and age groups, as well as with other industries,” the report said.

While the FBI gathers data on both suicides and attempted suicides, the agency’s data gathering has “encountered challenges” with showing the breadth of the problem, the report said. The FBI’s 2022 report identified 32 suicides from 22 law enforcement agencies nationwide — significantly less than the First HELP report.

“These preliminary findings underscore the critical necessity of expanding and refining data collection endeavors to garner a more comprehensive understanding of public safety personnel suicides and addressing the issue at a national scale,” the report said.

The average number of suicides per year during the period studied was just shy of 184. In 2022, the most recent year data was collected, there were 183 suicides. Also, 2019 saw the highest number with 234, according to the report.

“Despite reviewing the comments in the data, analysts found no specific reason for this increase,” the report said of the spike in 2019.

A dip in 2020 — to 184 suicides — may be attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic. That year “may have provided public safety personnel with a renewed sense of purpose and meaning in their roles, potentially acting as a protective factor against suicidal ideation and reducing the incidence of suicide that has been observed in past research,” the report said.

Agencies, location and department size

More than half — 51% — of the officer deaths by suicide involved officers from local police departments, the report found. Twenty percent were from sheriff’s offices, and another 13% were corrections officers.

The majority of suicides are from departments with 100 or more full-time sworn officers, according to the report.

“These large agencies represent merely 10.8 percent of all law enforcement agencies and correctional facilities nationwide, but account for 61 percent of suicides among publish safety personnel,” the report said.

The findings regarding agency size and suicide are contrary to previous research that suggested that officers at smaller agencies may have an elevated suicide risk, the report said. The smallest agencies — which account for about 4% of the suicides included in the study — reported nine or fewer officer deaths by suicide.

“The correlation between agency size and the proportion of deaths by suicide appears to be linear, with fewer occurrences observed in smaller agencies,” the report said.

The majority of the officers were actively serving at the time of their suicides, but a “significant portion” — 17% — were retired law enforcement, according to the report.

“Only 5 percent had recently been terminated from their position prior to the death event,” it added.

Southern states account for 33% of the studied suicides, followed by Northeastern states with 25%, the West with 21% and the Midwest with 20%.

“Considering that the South has more than double the population of the Northeast, these figures may shift when adjusted for population or the number of public safety personnel in each region,” the report found.

Demographics

The majority of officers who died by suicide were white men in their 40s, according to the report.

“Males make up approximately 87 percent of public safety personnel nationwide … and their reported suicide rate closely aligns with that percentage, with males accounting for 92 percent of deaths,” the report said.

Most of the officers who died by suicide were in a relationship (59%) and had one or more children (66%).

Nearly 70% of all cases were at the officer rank, followed by 21% at the mid-management level and 7% at investigator level.

Mental health and life challenges

Life and mental health challenges led to many officers’ deaths, the reports found — the most prevalent of which were depression (34%) and PTSD (27%).

“Roughly 23 percent reported some level of help-seeking behaviors before the officer’s death by suicide,” the report said. “The highest proportion of help-seeking behaviors among public safety personnel was related to seeking treatment for PTSD, a mental health issue known to have a significant correlation with suicidal tendencies. Approximately 17 percent of officers sought assistance for PTSD, and 7 percent sought help for any form of mental health treatment.”

In nearly all of the cases the officer was off duty, and the officers used a firearm.

The report also urges federal agencies, such as the FBI, to create a more robust law enforcement officer suicide database.

If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide or worried about a friend or loved one, call or text the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 for free, confidential emotional support 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

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