NYPD Stepping Up Outreach After Shocking Number Of Suicides

NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — The NYPD is looking for answers and informing officers about their options for help as the department deals with a shocking number of suicides this year.

On Wednesday, a veteran NYPD officer died by suicide in his home in Queens. He was the second officer in just one week to kill himself, the seventh since June and the ninth in 2019.

The tragedy highlights a larger issue in the police department, said Hal Tannenbaum. He notes there’s a hesitance to acknowledge weakness among police officers.

“There’s also, many a time, the fear of the department finding out and then being stigmatized or changing their duty status,” he said.

Tannenbaum is a retired officer who worked with the department’s peer assistance program – Police Organization Providing Peer Assistance (POPPA).

According to Chief of Detectives Dermot Shea, the department is working tirelessly to figure out how to end the surge in suicides.

“Are we doing more? Yes. As we speak, there's meetings going on,” he said Thursday afternoon.

Patrolmen's Benevolent Association president Pat Lynch also released a message on Twitter urging cops to look out for each other.

“To my fellow police officers, this is our crisis. We need to have a conversation in every locker room, every station house and every RMP about what happens after we kill ourselves, after we make that decision,” he said.

Earlier this summer, Commissioner James O'Neill had talked about the intense pressures of the job.

"This is an extremely difficult job. It's not an ordinary job. People face a lot of stresses. They are exposed to a lot of trauma," O'Neill said.

Tannenbaum says it’s crucial that colleagues and relatives of police officers be attuned to pleas for help.

“Even if someone seemingly is saying, ‘I'd be better off dead,’ it can't be taken as a joke,” he said.

On Thursday, Mayor Bill de Blasio also addressed the mental health crisis in the department, sending a letter to rank and file officers highlighting his own father’s suicide after returning home from WWII while battling with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“I remember people trying to offer him help and he didn't know how to accept it, he thought it was some sign of weakness to accept help and I think a lot of people, unfortunately, have been brought up that way,” the mayor said. “To break up through that is going to take a whole lot of work.”

The mayor noted one example of how to break through as, “Something as simple as saying, ‘No, there's nothing wrong with having medication, it's not going to compromise your work or your career.’”

De Blasio vowed to do “whatever it takes” to help curb the number of officer suicides in the city.

POPPA, the volunteer police support network, also offers a friendly ear and directs officers to appropriate resources to get help.

In a bid to stem suicides in New Jersey, plans were announced last week to train a resiliency officer in every department.

The following resources are available for officers in need of help:
  • Employee Assistance Unit: 646-610-6730
  • Chaplains Unit: 212-473-2363
  • POPPA (independent from the NYPD): 888-267-7267
  • NYC WELL: Text, call, & chat www.nyc.gov/nycwell
  • Lifeline: 800-273-TALK (8255)
  • Crisis Text Line: Law enforcement officers can text BLUE to 741741 (non-law enforcement can text TALK to 741741)
  • Call 911 for emergencies
  • The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-TALK (8255)