Finally, the families of LEO’s and first responders who die by suicide are being afforded line of duty death status and the dignity they deserve

First, New Hampshire, and now on July 16, 2022 the City of Chicago, IL has agreed to pay line of duty death (LODD) benefits to officers who die by suicide. Each of these cases are complex and I am sure some form of assessment of the individual officer’s case will be carefully chronicled. I can imagine this is going to be slow going.as I am not sure whether there are some strings attached to the individual suicide. 

Two Capitol police officers have taken their own lives since the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. More recently, three Chicago PD officers have died similarly in their role protecting the city of Chicago. And there have been others who died alone with their private torment.This change in policy will signal to officers that you are not alone and your life has value.

This information came after the two officers spent 5 hours fighting the insurrectionists sometimes in hand to hand combat often being humiliated and threatened. In its aftermath many law enforcement officers and even the secret service detail guarding Vice President Mike Pence were in fear that there may be a blood bath in the Capital that day. Pence was very close to the leading wave of insurrectionists. Jeffrey Smith, a Metropolitan D.C. Police officer, and Capitol Police Officer Howard Liebengood both “took their own lives in the aftermath of that battle” of January 6, according to an article in Politico on January 27, 2021. Over a year later, Officer Smith’s death was changed to line of duty death after significant persuasion by Officer Smith’s surviving wife. Smith had never been right in the few days after the attack. He was ordered back into work in a move that failed to recognize his cognitive deficits and their impact on personal well-being and state of mind resulting from the insurrection.

The denial of this LODD recognition diminishes the honor of one man’s service and by doing so, fails every man or woman who puts on a uniform by saying “your experience is yours alone”. And even worse, it amplifies the stigma attached to law enforcement deaths at a time when all else has failed them and their families. Michael Sefton, 2019

“Chicago is kind of like ground zero with the number of suicides that are happening on a monthly basis now at this point,” said Daniel Hollar, who chairs the department of behavior and social science studies at Bethune-Cookman University in Florida. Dr Holler hosted Dr Doug Joiner to Chicago for a symposium on 2019. Dr Joiner taught us much of why officers kill themselves. He says they become embittered, they feel a deep sense of thwarted belongingness and grow increasingly detached with and higher  risk. “These are people who are answering calls of duty to protect lives. We (need to) do our job to make their jobs safer.” After an officer suicide, personnel try to reconstruct what was going on in the person’s mind by systematically asking a set of questions, in a consistent format, to the people with the greatest insights into the person’s life and mind—family, co-workers, and friends.” This is known as a psychological autopsy. I have been writing about this for 9 years in these pages. This must include a 3 month list of calls the decedent answered including those for which he or she were given debriefing, defusing, or time off for respite from the job. I would want to understand how the call volume may have triggered underlying acute stress of were there calls that triggered new trauma?

Do people recognize signs of depression and someone who is feeling like he no longer belongs.When this is a parent officers have a duty to warn. Many officers have peer support trainjng, or crisis intervention training, or he has RAP and private clinicians to receive support and to handoff the police officer to the professional. I am curious what signs are present in the officer who has planned to take his or her own life? As psychologists we are trained to ask directly: “are you thinking about suicide?” Peer supporters must get better at this and make the band-off to either the EAP or another behavioral health provider. 

NH Governor Sununu signed House Bill 91 on July 8, and it goes into effect Sept. 6. Sponsored by N.H. Rep. Daryl Abbas, R-Salem, it drew bipartisan support. He is the Link:

  https://www.concordmonitor.com/NH-to-provide-line-of-duty-death-benefits-when-first-responders-die-by-suicide-47272823

The New Hampshire law will go into effect on September 1, 2022 and allow officers to feel that their families are secure with benefits of They should die in the line of duty which now include dying by suicide.

Chicago PD and its approximate 13000 men and women officers respond nightly to calls for service involving shootings, deaths, and officer involved shootings or other physical scenarios that puts them in the direct path of violence.

Dr Hollar is organizing the forum in Chicago the first of these I participated in with my colleague Dr Leo Polizoti from the Direct Decision Institute, Inc. in Worcester, MA. Among the issues up for discussion is what role Chicago’s relentless violence problem plays in officer suicide. Hollar said they will also talk about other factors, including whether familiarity with death makes suicidal officers more likely to follow through with their plans as reported in the March 2022 Chicago Tribune.

“What we see in this career, the calls that we get, can take a toll on somebody’s mental health and wellness,” he said Monday. “When we go to a death of a child by the hands of a parent, or a pretty nasty accident scene, these things will add up.” Cheshire, NH Sheriff Eli Rivera

Sometimes a law-enforcement officer will begin to question whether they may have arrived at the scene earlier by driving faster, or whether there was something else they could have done to prevent a loss of life, said Rivera. This can add up to behavior that may place an officer at risk if he decides he needs to get on scene faster the next time around. Some begin to believe that the world may be better if without them. Many are angry and become hopeless and embittered for a variety of reasons, like feelings of resentment and misunderstanding.

The psychological autopsy is especially important when first responders and essential workers are involved and die soon after. When LEO’s and first responders are put in fear of death or see other officers being placed in the direct line of fire, are vastly outmanned, and have no way in which to stop an attack, they are at high risk for the “hook” that comes from an acute stress reaction and over time may become a monkey on the backs of so many fine men and women. They are now free to come out of the shadows.