May 22, 2018
Comprehensive Suicide Prevention in Law Enforcement
Published in: Police Chief, Volume 87, Number 6, pages 22–23 (June 2020)
Posted on RAND.org on July 14, 2020
Police officers are charged with the enormous responsibility of keeping their communities safe. For officers to perform their duties effectively, it is imperative that police chiefs prioritize personnel safety and well-being. This means addressing the increasing rate of suicide in the United States and preventing suicide among law enforcement. As expressed by IACP President Steven Casstevens in his address to IACP members in Chicago, Illinois, last year, suicide among police officers is an issue that "we need to address head on, examine, treat, and reverse."
Any effort to prevent suicide among police officers must build upon the work that has been conducted to date. In 2014, the IACP produced its seminal report Breaking the Silence, urging police chiefs to address suicide risk directly and foster the mental health of the police officers under their command. Science has also evolved, with researchers learning more about the causes of suicide and effective ways that suicide can be prevented. Moving forward, police chiefs and those responsible for ensuring police officers' health and well-being must use science as their guide to promote the strategies agencies are using and that are effective, tweak those that are effective but might not be working as well as they could, and halt those that may cause harm.
Last year, with funding from the National Institute of Justice, a team from RAND published an article that summarized common approaches law enforcement agencies were using to prevent suicide and use science to identify strengths and weaknesses of current strategies. The research team conducted qualitative interviews with representatives from 110 law enforcement agencies across the United States, including those from small and large agencies, sheriffs' offices and police departments, and agencies serving urban and rural communities.
Any institution—from workplaces to schools to correctional settings to law enforcement agencies—seeking to prevent suicide must take a comprehensive approach. Science suggests that there are five components that define what such an approach looks like.