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Mystery Within: Understanding Police Suicide

NCJ Number
FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin Volume: 64 Issue: 2 Dated: (February 1995) Pages: 19-23
J M Violanti
Date Published
5 pages
This article reviews the prevalence of police suicides, factors in such suicides, effects on survivors, and prevention.
According to one study, in the years 1950 to 1979, a sample of 2,662 officers averaged one suicide very 2.5 years. From 1980 to 1990, the rate increased to one suicide every 1.25 years. Studies have revealed several factors related to police suicide. Suicides have been found to be more common among older officers and are related to alcoholism, physical illness, or impending retirement. Other clues have been cited to help explain the high rate of suicide among police officers: the regular availability of firearms, continuous exposure to death and injury, social strain that results from shift work, inconsistencies within the criminal justice system, and the perception among police officers that they work under a negative public image. The destructive effects on survivors underscore the need to prevent suicide among police personnel. Perhaps the best way to prevent officer suicides is to train them to cope better with professional and personal problems. This provides them with the means to recognize and void the psychological and behavioral wrong turns that eventually can lead to suicide. In addition, training supervisors to recognize the warning signs of suicide can afford agencies an opportunity to intervene before it is too late. Although police officers are reluctant to seek help for their problems, this circumstance is being abated through effective counseling programs in many departments. For individual officers, these programs have helped remove the stigma of admitting that they have problems. 23 notes