Chicago Police Suicides Rise In High-Stress Job

Ron Rufo, a recently retired Chicago Police Department officer and volunteer peer counselor, recently published “Police Suicide: Is Police Culture Killing Our Officers?” at his Northwest Side home, Jan. 28, 2017. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-TimesChicago Police

Buried among the facts and figures in the Justice Department’s recent book-length report on the failings of the Chicago Police Department was a telling statistic: The rate of suicide among CPD officers is 60 percent higher than other departments across the U.S.

Among the ranks of the nearly 10,000 patrol officers of the CPD, an average of three officers will take their own lives each year, according to life insurance claims information from the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7, the union representing the bulk of the department’s sworn officers.

In the past decade, 13 officers have been killed in the line of duty. Nearly twice as many officers died by their own hand during the same span.

Ron Rufo was a peer support counselor for most of his 21 years as a patrolman in the 9th District, volunteering to talk to his fellow officers at any scene where an officer was killed or injured. Rufo, who retired a little more than a year ago, estimates the number of his former peers who kill themselves each year could be double the FOP figure.

“There is a problem, and nobody’s doing anything about it,” Rufo said. “Supervisors don’t talk about it. The rank-and-file don’t talk about it. And it’s like the administration does not want to admit it’s a problem.”

Police officers in Chicago have a uniquely difficult job, even among their big-city peers, said Alexa James, a psychologist who served on Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Police Accountability Task Force. The expert panel last spring also released a scathing report on the CPD, but James said the authors were aware that individual officers need more support.

“When you have 760 homicides in the city in a year, that’s a war zone — and that’s where [police] are working every day,” said James, who noted the total number of murders in Chicago last year was larger than the tally in Los Angeles and New York, combined.

“It is a hard, hard job, and police officers get very little support,” she said.

The CPD’s Employee Assistance Program, which provides mental health services to 13,500 police officers and staff, has only three full-time counselors. The Los Angeles PD, the next-largest department in the U.S., has a staff of 11 clinicians for less than 10,000 sworn officers.

The small number of counselors leads to a “triage” approach to counseling services, the DOJ report states, with those three staffers offering about 7,500 consultations in 2015 alone. The combination of a potential backlog for appointments and the typical cop’s reluctance to seek help for mental issues hasn’t made EAP popular.

“You can go there whenever you want and make appointments,” said a veteran officer in a West Side district. “I believe there’s only two therapists there, so what’s their availability?”

“Do people do it? I don’t know. If they do, they don’t talk about it. I’ve never, in 14 years on the job, ever heard more than one or two guys talk about going to EAP.”

Police officers in Illinois might be more reluctant to seek mental health treatment than their peers in other states because of a pervasive fear that seeking help could cost them their badge, said Marla Friedman, a suburban psychologist who specializes in treating law enforcement officers.

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Source: Chicago Sun Times