Police Officer Suicides Outnumber Line-Of-Duty Deaths

"They give us the tools around our belt but not up in our head" says cop turned counselor.

Brian Kelly
May 17, 2018 - 5:00 am
Police motorcycle on display at a fundraising event.

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ST. LOUIS (KMOX)-While the deaths of 129 police officers who died in the line of duty last year got the headlines, 140 committed suicide, that we know of.  That comes as no surprise to former police officer turned counselor Craig Politte, "Unfortunately, that's not a surprising statistic at all."

Politte wore a badge for ten years, and was wounded in an exchange of gunfire with a drug supspect whom he killed. He says he eventually realized his anxiety and depression were impacting his marriage, so he got help and eventually got out. Politte says officers are never trained how to mentally deal with the confrontations, the scenes of death and constant pressure they face every shift. "They give us the tools around our belt but not up in our head."

He says officers evolve from someone who joins the force because they want to help people, to someone who realizes how unsafe their environment is. "We have to learn to protect ourselves. Each time we make a traffic stop, each time we handle a call, we're learning how to protect ourselves and keep us safe."

The caustic environment, Politte says, forces officers to internalize those pressures as they move on to the next situtation. "We're forced to work through these feelings to manage the call, we have to. But, we're not taught how to manage them afterwards."

Then there's the facade officers have to keep up around their peers. "We have to put on this hard shell because if we don't, maybe we can't handle the job or we're not going to get promoted or we're going to get excluded from our peers."

And those outside the force, Politte says, don't understand the job. So, officers lose their circle of friends outside police work. "Now, when we hang out with our peers, we're just talking about all these calls and it's just sort of luminating these negative feelings. But, again, we're not taught to express them. It's weak if we do."

That, he says, is when officers often turn to negative coping skills like alcohol, drugs or sex. "And then sometimes those negative coping skills aren't going to work and, unfortunately, some end their lives."

But help may be on the way. St. Louis County Police are requiring their detectives to see a counselor twice a year. It's a program Politte is hoping other departments soon adopt. "We're certainly hoping in the future that all of our officers in the metroplitan St. Louis area would have a mandatory checkup. Just to really take advantage of learning mental health and how it truly effects us."

 

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