Increase in suicides by law enforcement officers leads to request from Congress for report
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office) today announced the release of “Law Enforcement Officer Suicide: 2020 Report to Congress.” The report is a result of a request from Congress, driven by the increase in suicides by current and former law enforcement officers, to review the availability of existing mental health resources for law enforcement agencies. The report also provides a review of peer responder programs and makes recommendations for establishing evidence-based behavioral health and suicide prevention efforts for both law enforcement and other first responders.
“One of the top priorities of the Department of Justice and the COPS Office is the health and wellness of the nation’s law enforcement officers, who put both their physical and mental health on the line every day to keep our communities safe,” said Robert Chapman, Acting Director of the COPS Office. “The Department has committed numerous resources to this effort and will continue to do so.”
After a wide-ranging review of current resources and research, the report states that all evidence “constantly circles back to the importance of peer support and behavioral health partnerships.” In addition, the report finds that “Training is also critically important to supporting officer mental health and suicide prevention. Colleagues, supervisors, and managers are all important players in suicide prevention efforts, as they are the ones who may see the signs that an individual is struggling.”
The report points out that the departments that have been successful in lowering their suicide rates are the ones that have continued to focus on the education and training of individuals in this area, as well as creating support networks such as peer-to-peer programs. But the report also stresses that one of the biggest challenges to suicide prevention programs in agencies continues to be the law enforcement “culture,” and that too many officers still fear both the stigma and the possible consequences of asking for help.
The report also identifies the numerous resources the Department already devotes to officer safety and wellness through the COPS Office and the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) in the Office of Justice Programs. These resources include, but are not limited to, Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Act (LEMHWA) grants; the VALOR Initiative; the COPS Office’s Collaborative Reform Initiative Technical Assistance Center (CRI-TAC); the National Consortium on Preventing Law Enforcement Suicide; and the Officer Safety and Wellness (OSW) Group, formed by BJA and the COPS Office.
In addition, the report provides a number of recommendations for moving forward, such as enhancing peer-led prevention programs, strengthening laws so that officers seeking help are protected, and improving confidentiality within agencies.
The COPS Office is the federal component of the Department of Justice responsible for advancing community policing nationwide. The only Department of Justice agency with policing in its name, the COPS Office was established in 1994 and has been the cornerstone of the nation’s crime fighting strategy with grants, a variety of knowledge resource products, and training and technical assistance. Through the years, the COPS Office has become the go-to agency for law enforcement agencies across the country and continues to listen to the field and provide the resources that are needed to reduce crime and build trust between law enforcement and the communities served. The COPS Office has invested more than $14 billion to advance community policing, including grants awarded to more than 13,000 state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies to fund the hiring and redeployment of more than 134,000 officers.