In light of the recent death of Eastern Michigan University Police Chief Greg O’Dell, it’s important that we not only take a look at police suicide rates, but also ways to help prevent them.

EMU Police Chief Greg O'Dell
EMU Police Chief Greg O’Dell

First, it has been reported by in a 2010 article that the national suicide rate for law enforcement officers is nearly double the national rate for non-law enforcement officers. And while this may seem surprisingly high, it illustrates the point that we, as professional law enforcement agency members, are there for our fellow officers when they need us to be. Chief O’Dell’s death is a reminder that there must be safeguards in place to help those in need.

The article offered these statistics from a 2009 Badge of Life police suicide study:

  • Ages 40-44 are at the highest risk of suicide, representing 27 percent of all suicides.
  • Service time at highest risk was 20 years plus.
  • Officers with less than 10 years on the job had a suicide rate of 17 percent.
  • 64 percent of suicides were a surprise.

It’s more important than ever that officers look out for those they work with, whether it’s a partner, a rookie or even a seasoned veteran. The same article sites several warning signs, which include officers talking about suicide, making statements related to helplessness or hopelessness, a lost of interest in the things the officer once cared about, and giving away valued or prizes possessions. These are all important warning signs and it’s important for officers to take the appropriate action when they feel it’s necessary. Police officers are people too, and sometimes the stress of the job in addition to the stress of everyday life seems like too much to handle, and something as simple as asking a fellow officer how he or she is doing could be enough to help them get some of the stress off their chest. If this isn’t enough and the affected officer isn’t willing to get the help he or she needs on his or her own, then it becomes one of the times where breaking the code of silence is not only OK, but the right thing to do.

Tell a supervisor about your fellow officer and follow up to make sure he or she is getting the help they need. We’re not only responsible for protecting the citizens in our jurisdiction, but also each other as well, and that responsibility should be taken seriously. At POAM, we take this responsibility very seriously and want to make sure all of you do, too. It’s not just our duty as police officers, but also as people looking out for one another.

Chief O’Dell’s death is a tragedy, and it’s our goal to do everything we can to ensure that this doesn’t happen again. So if you see a fellow officer in need, take the proper action, and if you don’t know who you should go to, contact POAM or your union representative to steer you in the right direction. Be safe out there, brothers and sisters.

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