An off-duty 27-year Nassau police veteran took his own life at his Massapequa home Monday, bringing renewed attention to depression and other mental-health issues cops struggle with on Long Island and nationwide.
Nassau County Executive Laura Curran and Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder announced the officer’s death in a statement Tuesday that did not include the deceased cop’s name or how he died. Police officials who requested anonymity confirmed the cause of death was suicide.
Nassau police responded to the officer’s home at about 6 p.m. Monday after receiving a report of a shooting. The officer was transported to Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow, where he was pronounced dead, a police official said.
“He worked every day to keep our communities safe and his death is a tremendous loss for this department,” Curran and Ryder said in the statement. “He was also a husband and a father. Please keep his wife and children in your prayers as they face this unimaginable pain.”
The Nassau County Police Department’s Peer Support and Employee Assistance Office will provide counseling to “all department and family members who were involved with the tragic events that occurred last night,” the statement said.
James McDermott, president of the Nassau County Police Benevolent Association, offered condolences to the family.
"We ask that all members of the Nassau community keep them in their thoughts, and join us in praying for solace for a devastated family and heartbroken police force in the coming days," McDermott said in a statement. “The Nassau County Police family grieves as one today, as we mourn the loss of one of our brothers in uniform."
The officer is the first Nassau cop to die by suicide since May 2017, Nassau police said. His death comes as law-enforcement agencies around the country grapple with suicides and untreated mental illness among officers. Eleven active or retired NYPD officers have died by suicide this year, prompting Commissioner James O’Neill to declare a mental health emergency.
Blue H.E.L.P, an organization that advocates for mental-health services for officers, said 163 active and retired officers nationwide have killed themselves this year. The organization said 167 retired and active officers killed themselves in 2018 and 169 died by suicide in 2017.
Police officers and firefighters are more likely to die from suicide than in the line of duty, according to a 2018 white paper commissioned by the Ruderman Family Foundation, an advocacy organization for people with disabilities. The suicide rate among firefighters, 18 per 100,000 population, and police officers, 17 per 100,000, is significantly higher than the rate among the general population, 13 per 100,000, the paper said.
First responders kill themselves at higher rates because of the work they do, said Dr. Miriam Heyman, the foundation’s chief inclusion officer and primary author of the paper, in an interview Tuesday. Cops witness an average of 188 “critical events” such as fatal vehicle crashes, mass shootings and terror attacks — during their careers.
“First responders are exposed to death and destruction on a daily basis,” Heyman said.
Kevin Black, the president of the Nassau County Superior Officers Association, the labor union representing sworn members of the department from the rank of sergeant up, said the department and its unions have become more aggressive in encouraging officers to seek care for depression and other conditions.
“Help is available if you need help and it will be confidential,” Black said.
The department’s Employee Assistance Unit, available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, now has a supervisor, three police officers and a civilian employee who are also mental health professionals. The unit had two employees two years ago, officials said. The Peer Support Team, made up of police officers who are trained in counseling, has doubled in size in the past two years.
The Nassau County Legislature passed two bills in September that will create an Office of Mental Health in Wellness for the police department and the sheriff’s office. The offices would create a website and app with depression and suicide resources. A spokeswoman for Curran said the county executive hopes to sign the bills into law at a ceremony next week.