It is a sad reality that crime and violence and their consequences impact too many lives, families and communities. This is what the men and women in law enforcement dedicate themselves to trying to prevent every single day.
It is part of the commitment we make to serve others. Collectively, our communities are working together in new ways to make sure law enforcement is more responsive and accountable to those we serve.
Those of us in law enforcement face many dangers in the course of our careers. Unfortunately, it’s become clear that one of the biggest dangers we face comes from within.
There’s a mental health crisis in law enforcement. So far this year, there have been 201 deaths nationally by suicide among law enforcement officers. That’s twice the number killed in the line of duty and significantly more than the 169 recorded in all of 2018. Tragically, just in recent weeks, two officers from the Twin Cities metro area took their own lives.
The trend is so alarming that police suicide has been called “the other line-of-duty death.” The reasons for the increase in suicide are not new: job-related post-traumatic stress, depression, and family and relationship problems, to name a few.
Fortunately, there are encouraging signs that the conversation around officer suicide is changing. Research shows that how we talk about suicide matters and can make a difference, especially to those who may have suicidal thoughts. Even more important is accepting the reality that we can no longer ignore the issues that lead to these tragic outcomes.
The law enforcement community needs to focus on reducing stigma and changing the culture to make mental health and depression topics officers can talk about without fear of negative effects on their careers.
The antiquated notion that “tough” cops should just deal with their emotions privately is also changing. Peer-to-peer support and training on mental health are how many departments are addressing this issue. They are focused on creating a culture in which no one feels the need to stay silent with their struggles. Our goal is to change the narrative to “it is OK to not be OK” and admit that half the battle is seeking help and breaking the barriers.
Knowing how to identify someone at risk and having the right resources available for suicide prevention are critical. Since taking office, I have worked on building an innovative officer safety and wellness program called Tri Wellness, focused on the mind, body and spirit.
Recently the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office hired its first-ever full-time mental health clinician who has expertise on the unique challenges and stresses our employees experience every day. This program also includes a peer support system and nondenominational chaplains to address the spiritual needs of our staff. Our program recognizes that our employees are unique and come from many generations and backgrounds, and that our services have to address common stressors of the job in ways that reflect the diversity of our staff.
Our employees are part of this community. Whether it’s our deputies on patrol, our dispatchers answering 911, our crime scene investigators processing tough scenes or our detention staff managing the jail, we are able to best serve residents when we can provide our staff the necessary support to address the unique challenges of this honored profession.
When we take better care of ourselves, we can provide better service to the people of Hennepin County.
David P. Hutchinson is Hennepin County sheriff.