Mental health crisis and police officers, counseling and cops?

RETIRED CHIEF PHILIP BANKS | 9/12/2019, 2:58 p.m.
Recent incidents of suicides within the NYPD has many people asking, “What is going on? Why are these happening? What ...
First Deputy Commissioner Philip Banks III Photo by Bill Moore

Recent incidents of suicides within the NYPD has many people asking, “What is going on? Why are these happening? What can we do about it? What should we do about it? How do we protect our protectors?”

The police commissioner has declared it a mental health crisis. The president of the union representing the rank and file made a plea, eerily reminiscent of former First Lady Nancy Reagan’s plea when a war on drugs was declared, “Just say no.” The union president plea, though a bit more blunt, emotional and direct was “Don’t f* do it.”

Both the commissioner’s declaration and the union president’s plea were good first steps. They were necessary. One needed to be declared; the other needed to be said. No one should deny that. The question is will it work? Will it be effective? Is it enough?

The chairperson of the Public Safety Committee within the NYC Council is on record to draft legislation to expand mental health services and mandate counseling for police officers.

Mental Health crisis and police officers? Counseling and cops? This can’t be. Police are a symbol of strength in our society. They carry firearms. We call them when we need help. I mean law enforcement are our protectors.

From a community perspective, how should we look at this? Is this our problem? Isn’t that a police problem? I say no. It may be happening within the NYPD, but it is certainly a community problem.

For one, agree or not, police (NYPD) are as much a part of the fabric of our communities as any other entity. They live, work and grow here just like any other part of the community. When a community ebbs and flows, the police ebb and flow with it.

Secondly, when officers are experiencing problems, what impact does that have on the community? A police officer who is having difficulty coping still responds to call for services. They are still expected to deal with the drug dealers, console victims of crimes, give advice and the likes.

How can they positively impact the community in this current state? I would argue that yes, it is a community problem.

But there are other members in the community who face a towering amount of stress as well such as our teachers, transit workers, bus drivers and of course our EMT workers. What happens when they are facing a crisis that is not adequately and sufficiently dealt with? What impact does that have on our community?

According to recent reports, the Chicago Police Department, which also has experienced challenges when dealing with suicides within its rank, is mandated under a federal consent decree to increase the number of counselors in its employee assistance program. This was not a suggestion from the federal government—it was a mandate. Why did the federal government mandate this? This decree resulted in an investigation that described the CPD as badly trained, largely unaccountable and prone to needless violence. Did something reveal itself when the feds decided to place Chicago under this decree, perhaps that there is a link to needless violence and officer stress? If true, then officer stress is indeed a community problem. We need good policing and we deserve it. The officers also deserve our support when they are in need.