America’s law enforcement officers were suffering a suicide epidemic before anti-police and racial justice protests engulfed the country. Now police advocates worry it will get worse.
Last year, a record 228 current or former police officers died by suicide, according to Blue H.E.L.P., a nonprofit that tracks police suicides. That total is higher than all other line-of-duty deaths last year, the organization said.
The number of suicides slowed somewhat in the first half of 2020 with only 70 deaths, down from 89 during the same period in 2019, though mental health experts caution that those numbers are vastly underreported because of the stigma associated with suicide.
That was before police officers across the country came under siege because of the May 25 death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis.
Psychologists and police officers say the torrent of criticism is more traumatic than the life-and-death situations officers face on the job. They expect the number of police suicides to start climbing again.
“I hope I’m wrong, but I think the number of police suicides will start to creep back up,” said Sherri Martin, a former police officer and national director of the Fraternal Order of Police’s national officer wellness committee.
“Long term, the number of anti-police sentiments could take more of a toll than a singular incident you can compartmentalize,” she said. “This is a widespread big wave of things coming at officers at once rather than a small whitecap.”