By Yousry “Yost” Zakhary, IACP Second Vice President, Director of Public Safety, Woodway, Texas; and Guest Blogger
Officer safety has long been a priority for the IACP and is a concern for each of us as police executives. This year, under President McNeil’s leadership, we’ve seen a renewed focus on officer safety and an expansion of our efforts to address officer wellness and mental health. Under this umbrella is police suicide: a subject most police chiefs are not eager to talk about. More than 150 officers a year in the United States take their own lives. Still, mental health issues and the threat of officer suicide are the “dirty little secrets” of law enforcement—topics no one wants to address or acknowledge.
But our collective silence only compounds the problem and advances the notion that cops must, without question, be consistently brave, steadfast, and resilient. Our denial perpetuates the stigma many officers hold about mental health issues—that depression, anxiety, and thoughts of suicide are signs of weakness and failure, not cries for help. The truth is, our police officers are not immune to the stresses of the job. Arguably, they are more susceptible given the nature of police work. As chiefs of police we cannot afford to continue to ignore police suicide, acting as if it doesn’t happen or won’t happen in our departments.
Officer mental health is an issue of officer safety, and we should treat it as such. Chiefs can quickly list a variety of measures available to safeguard the physical safety of officers. But what are we doing to actively protect and promote their mental and emotional health? Sadly, in many cases, not enough.
The IACP is committed changing this.
I invite and encourage you to join me at IACP 2012 for the conference plenary session titled “Let’s Not Talk About It: Addressing Myths about Police Suicide and Implementing a National Initiative for Suicide Awareness and Prevention.” The plenary, which will be held on Tuesday, October 2 at 1 p.m. in room 6A of the San Diego Convention Center, will offer an open, public dialogue and a national initiative for the prevention of police suicides. This session represents one of the first steps among many the IACP is taking to
- open a dialogue on police suicide;
- elevate awareness among our members; and
- provide resources to guide chiefs in developing prevention, intervention, and response programs that ultimately will save lives.