Last month, New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine named a state task force to study and combat a sudden increase in the number of suicides among law enforcement agents in recent months.
“This alarming increase in suicides among these brave men and women deserves our quick and immediate attention,” Corzine said at a recent press conference. “It is our responsibility to extend a helping hand in their hour of need.” According to various reports, as of early October, eight New Jersey police officers have committed suicide–more than during the same period last year. On average, about a dozen New Jersey law enforcement officials took their own life between 2003 and 2007.
In New York, earlier this year, within a one week period, a 35-year-old New York state trooper shot himself over a job-related incident, and a female New York City police officer delivered a single fatal shot to herself while propped up in bed at her apartment. “We’re losing a police officer every 19 or 20 hours [from] self-inflicted wounds,” said Robert F. Douglas, a former police officer in Baltimore, who now runs the National Police Suicide Foundation in Mary- land. In a report published on the group’s website, Douglas said, nationally between 400 to 500 officers commit suicide each year, compared with 150 to 200 that die in the line of duty.
In New Jersey, Corzine said job-related stress, pressure and frequent encounters with the grim and melancholic sides of people and society contribute to the angst and despair law enforcement must contend with on a daily basis. “If we are to maintain a ready and viable team of law enforcement professionals,” Corzine said, “we owe it to them to provide all the necessary tools to deal with every danger they might encounter–physical or otherwise.” Finally, the 14-member task force will be charged with developing a strategy to assist law enforcement officials to deal with stress and other mental health issues, including depression. The team will be comprised of representatives from local law enforcement organizations, state police mental health professionals and individuals from the Department of Health and Human Services.