Posted by Edgar Sandoval and Ashley Southall | 16 August 2019 | 751 times
Two New York police officers killed themselves this week, continuing a rash of suicides that has claimed nine lives this year, rattled the nation’s largest police force and prompted commanders to issue urgent pleas for despondent officers to seek counseling.
More police officers commit suicide every year than are killed in the line of duty; since 2014, in New York City, an average of five officers have died each year by suicide.
On Wednesday evening, a woman called the police to report that a man had shot himself in the head in a residence in Laurelton, Queens. The police cleared the streets to take him to a hospital. The man, later identified as Robert Echeverria, a 56-year-old veteran New York police officer, succumbed to his wounds, the police said.
He joined the police force 25 years ago and had been assigned to the department’s Strategic Response Group, which, among other tasks, monitors mass protests.
With his death, which happened one day after the apparent suicide of a 35-year-old off-duty officer in Yonkers, the department nearly doubled the average number of reported suicides among officers — more than four months before the year ends. The number of police suicides this year is the highest in at least a decade, underscoring the Police Department’s ongoing struggles to persuade officers that they should seek treatment if they are experiencing problems with mental health.
Donovan Richards, the chairman of the City Council committee with oversight of the police, lives a few blocks away and said he was driving in the Laurelton neighborhood when he saw police cars rushing through it. He followed them to the house and saw the officer’s 11-year-old daughter run outside screaming. Medics brought out her father soon after.
“This hits close to home,” he said. “It’s tragic for the family, for the children, for the community. It shows that the city as a whole needs to do more to offer services to those who are sworn to protect and serve us. How are we taking care of them as a city?”
On Tuesday, the police in Yonkers said they responded at 3 a.m. to a report of a suicide in a home on Shoreview Drive and found a New York City officer dead from a self-inflicted wound.
The officer, Johnny Rios, worked in the 50th Precinct and had been temporarily assigned to a detail at Yankee Stadium. He had been with the department for seven years and had no blemishes on his record, the police said.
Gerard Rios, 60, an older brother, said that his younger brother had been melancholic in the last few months after losing his father, Evaristo Rios, 80, in April and after the recent suicide of a fellow officer, Kevin Preiss.
“When my father passed away, all of the police officers came to the funeral,” Mr. Rios said. “My other brother knew he had been sad. But we were not expecting this.”
“He was a wonderful person,” his sister, Dolly Rios, said. “He was always funny, upbeat. Just a great guy.”
Mr. Richards said his City Council committee, Public Safety, was drafting legislation aimed at expanding mental health services for officers. Among the things lawmakers are considering is funding to expand peer counseling and mandating counseling for officers who respond to tragedies.
But he also suggested that the Police Department hire an outside firm to survey officers anonymously about the challenges they face on duty and off. He said he often heard from officers who were afraid to speak out about issues they’re dealing with, such as unpredictable schedules and personal troubles, because they feared losing the confidence of their colleagues and supervisors.
“So you put on that uniform and you go outside and you’re just supposed to be tough,” he said. “But when you need help, you don’t have to be tough,” he said. “We need our officers to know that they should be able to go out there and feel comfortable getting services and that doesn’t make you weak. Macho is getting services.”
New York’s police commissioner, James P. O’Neill, declared a mental-health crisis in June and told officers that they could get confidential help from department chaplains, peer support groups and phone- and text-message hotlines.
Chief Terence A. Monahan, the department’s highest-ranking uniformed officer, echoed Mr. O’Neill’s plea during an interview on Tuesday.
“We want a person, when they are in a real dark period — low point of their life — to realise they can come, they can talk to someone,” Chief Monahan said. “That it is O.K. to ask for help.”
He said he wanted to increase the number of clinicians and peer volunteers available to counsel police officers in crisis and to make it easier for officers to connect with therapists who accept their health insurance.
“This isn’t something that we can speak of in hushed tones anymore,” Chief Monahan said. “We need to talk openly about it. Every precinct, every office in the department. This is like any other disease. You get treated. You get well. You get back to work.”
The push to heighten awareness about mental health comes as the department grapples with its eighth suicide in two months.
Four officers killed themselves in June alone. On June 5, Deputy Chief Steven J. Silks, a highly respected veteran who was facing mandatory retirement, shot himself in his police vehicle. The next day, another veteran officer, Detective Joseph Calabrese, took his own life in a marsh in southern Brooklyn. Officer Michael Caddy fatally shot himself near his Staten Island precinct station house on June 14, and on June 26, Officer Preiss was found dead at his home in Long Island.
Researchers have found police officers are at a higher risk of suicide than people in other jobs, because of the high stress of the work, peer pressure to keep emotions in check and constant access to firearms.
When word came Tuesday of the officer’s death in Yonkers, Chief Monahan said he felt a mix of pain and frustration. “What are we doing?” he said. “What are we missing? What more can we do to keep our members safe?”
He said he has lost not only colleagues, but friends, to suicide over the years, including Chief Silks.
“This is something that has touched me throughout my entire career,” Chief Monahan said. “This has been a very bad year. It’s been a very bad two months. These are more than numbers. These are fellow police officers.” (NYTIMES)
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