Our 2012 study of police suicides
was published in August, 2013,
and one thing was evident: police suicides took a slight drop in
2012. We continue to be the first group to track police suicides on a scientific
basis and this is the first reduction we have seen since we began monitoring
them in 2008. This is encouraging news that we tentatively attribute to
the increased number of departments adopting peer support programs and the
increased willingness of officers, many of them younger, to seek professional
assistance—not only when they have a problem, but before problems
develop (through things like "mental health checks" done
annually). Other factors may be involved, as well, and we will keep you
advised through our newsletters, website and, of course, the final published
study. Our studies show the following:
2008 police suicides: 141
2009 police suicides: 143
2012 police suicides: 126
Profile of suicide cases:
Average age, 2012: 42
Average yrs on job:
data from the study that might be of interest to you includes:
91 percent of
suicides were by males.
Ages 40 – 44
were most at risk.
Time on the job:
15 – 19 years were most at risk.
63 percent of
suicide victims were single.
11 percent of
suicides were veterans.
This national study of police suicides
(NSOPS 2012) was a massive
undertaking, requiring the review of almost 50,000 emails, the monitoring of
news and websites and the voluntary contributions from many of you in the
field. In spite of this encouraging news, the fact is that police suicides
continue at a rate much higher than the number of police officers killed by
felons. This alone reminds us of the need to redouble our efforts, not
only at suicide intervention, but on the maintenance of mental health in law
enforcement. We cannot lose sight of the fact that the officer whose mind
is on other problems, be they at home or at work, is a danger to himself and
other officers who are relying on him. Much remains to be done.
If you are in law enforcement or
work with law enforcement, you
can obtain a free copy of the 2012 study by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org
The NSOPS study was
repeated in 2009 in order to verify the results and methodology used. It was not published. All
variables, adjustments and error factors were applied in the same manner.
The results were
remarkably similar, particularly in light of the increase of incoming data. A
slight increase was noted in the number of police suicides, from 141 in 2008 to
143 in 2009.
In terms of other
results, it appears that officers in the age category 40 – 44 years were at a
higher risk for suicide, with 27% of all suicides found in this age group. This
was a slight shift “upwards” from the previous year (age group 35 – 39). There
was a similar shift up in the years of service, from the group 10 – 14 during
2008 to 20 years and above. Officers with less than ten years on the job
continued to share a disproportionate portion of the suicides (17 percent).
Overall, the two years
of NSOPS disproved the school of thought that maintains it is impossible to
determine, with any degree of certainty, the number of police suicides taking
place in the United States. NSOPS did not, by any means, provide an
"exact" answer. Law enforcement agencies continue, in particular, to
frustrate research and program development by refusing to acknowledge the
causes of police suicides.
Certainly, more accurate
data can be obtained by those with greater resources and money than Badge of
Life. Our contribution was to show that it can be done, and done with a good
degree of certitude. Rather than counting the beans and quibbling over percentages,
we encourage you to do better.
Completed during 2008,
this was the first of three studies of police suicides in the United States
(2008, 2009 and 2012). It was published in the International Journal of Emergency Mental Health.
For this study, it was initially noted that considerable
confusion existed in the law enforcement community over “how many”
police suicides occur in a given calendar year. Attempts to fill this gap have
given rise to a variety of speculative, often wildly exaggerated figures, none
based on verifiable research or gathered in an organized, useful manner.
Attempts to obtain a verifiable sampling of this data or even the most
rudimentary validation have been futile, however.
Such figures have then
been translated into wildly varying “rates” and “profiles” that, because they
lack any basis in fact, do little to help and much to impede the meaningful
development of programs that can address the problems of police stress, trauma,
posttraumatic stress, suicide and the promotion of improved general health in
the law enforcement community.
Surveillance of Police Suicide Study (NSOPS) was the first of its kind to study
actual suicides on a daily basis across all 50 states for an entire year. This
exhaustive study took place from January 1, 2008 until December 31, 2008,
inclusive. The information gathered in the study went beyond mere numbers
and encompassed a range of other serious questions surrounding each suicide,
Time on the job
Means of suicide
Circumstances leading to
Emotional state of the
officer prior to the event
Known trauma prior to
departments and medical examiners.
We established that 141
police suicides occurred during 2008. This figure is, not surprisingly, in
concert with CDC/NOMS data, current research, and comparisons with groups such
as the United States Army. Highlights that you will find included in the
- Ages 35 - 39 were at highest risk of suicide.
- Service time at highest risk was 10 - 14 years.
- 64% of suicides were "a surprise."
The NSOPS study includes
state-by-state figures and information on each, the reasons potential suicides
will continue to elude prevention/awareness programs, and the need for a
re-focusing of efforts to self care rather than on the surveillance of others,
such as occurs in QPR programs.
Given the present stage
of research on police stress, it is likely that inaccuracies will continue to
exist in the reporting of police suicide, including underreporting,
misclassification, the lack of updated nationwide data, and difficulty
associated with collecting data. NSOPS has demonstrated that such data can be
collected with reasonable accuracy, however. Those with far greater monetary
and staffing resources are encouraged to pursue this research further.
A copy of this study can
be obtained from the International Journal of Emergency