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What Lies Behind the Badge


Over a span of seven years, more than 1,200 public safety personnel, including law enforcement and corrections officers, died by suicide, as reported by a nonprofit organization dedicated to tracking such incidents. According to the report by First HELP and CNA Corporation, from 2016 to 2022, a total of 1,287 individuals in these professions took their own lives.


The FBI's 2022 report documented 32 suicides across 22 law enforcement agencies nationwide, a notably lower figure compared to findings from the First HELP report.

According to the report, "These preliminary findings underscore the critical necessity of expanding and refining data collection endeavors to garner a more comprehensive understanding of public safety personnel suicides and addressing the issue at a national scale."


In 2022, the most recent year for which data was collected, there were 183 suicides. The report highlighted that 2019 saw the highest number with 234 suicides. So far, analysts found no specific reason for this increase. It is estimated that the dip in numbers for 2022 could be attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic.


Regarding agency demographics, the report noted that more than half (51%) of officer suicides involved personnel from local police departments, with 20% from sheriff's offices and 13% from corrections officers. Despite representing only 10.8% of all law enforcement agencies and correctional facilities nationwide, large agencies with 100 or more full-time sworn officers accounted for 61% of suicides among public safety personnel.


Contrary to previous research, which suggested elevated suicide risk among officers at smaller agencies, the report found a linear correlation between agency size and suicide rates, with fewer occurrences observed in smaller agencies. The majority of officers who died by suicide were actively serving at the time (83%), while 17% were retired. Only 5% had recently been terminated from their positions prior to their deaths.


In terms of regional distribution, Southern states accounted for 33% of the studied suicides, followed by the Northeast (25%), the West (21%), and the Midwest (20%). Adjustments for population or the number of public safety personnel in each region may alter these figures.

Demographically, the majority of officers who died by suicide were white men in their 40s. Males accounted for 92% of the deaths, consistent with their 87% representation among public safety personnel nationwide. The report also highlighted significant mental health challenges among officers, with depression (34%) and PTSD (27%) being the most prevalent issues. Approximately 23% had engaged in some form of help-seeking behavior before their deaths, primarily related to PTSD treatment (17%) and general mental health assistance (7%). In nearly all cases, officers were off duty at the time of their suicides, and the means used were predominantly firearms.


This comprehensive data underscores the complexity of addressing suicide among law enforcement personnel and emphasizes the need for tailored interventions, enhanced support systems, and continued research to mitigate these tragic losses within the public safety community.

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