A funeral for a Suffolk County police officer.

A funeral for a Suffolk County police officer. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Suffolk County officials are examining the mental health services and other support offered to law enforcement professionals after four officers died by suicide in recent weeks.

“We are devastated at the news of these tragic deaths,” Suffolk County Executive Ed Romaine said in a statement to Newsday. “My administration has wasted no time in addressing the issue of mental health among all of our employees and have begun providing information about mental health resources available to them and their families.”

The suicides included two Suffolk police officers, a deputy sheriff and a probation officer in the past four weeks, Romaine spokesman Michael Martino said.

The latest happened early last week.

“It's reaching epidemic proportions, so something needs to be done, and we are a willing partner with the county,” said Lou Civello, president of the Suffolk County Police Benevolent Association, which is the police department’s largest labor union. “The whole department is hurting over this.”

Following a spate of suicides of NYPD officers in 2019, the police departments in Nassau and Suffolk counties intensified their outreach efforts around mental health and suicide prevention, which included Suffolk’s hiring of a full-time chaplain to reach out to officers immediately following traumatic on-the-job events.

The following year, Congress passed the Law Enforcement Suicide Data Collection Act in an effort to better understand the problem. In its latest annual report in June 2023, the FBI said law enforcement agencies reported 34 deaths by suicide and nine attempted suicides in 2022 and the first four months of 2023. A firearm was used in 29, or 85.3%, of the 34 deaths, the report said.

Agencies self-report, so the data might not capture all law enforcement suicides. “The LESDC cannot succeed without agencies willing, ready, and able to submit data to the FBI,” the report said.

Blue H.E.L.P., a Massachusetts nonprofit that tracks suicides among all first responders, including firefighters and 911 operators, reported 163 nationwide last year.

The reasons for suicide among law enforcement professionals are varied, and could be unrelated to their work, experts say, although police and other law enforcement officers can find themselves responding to emotionally charged situations.

“I think certainly it's the stress of the job,” said Civello, the Suffolk union head. “The job has become more stressful, and I think we need to do more to meet the needs of the modern law enforcement officer and people who deal with psychological trauma on a regular basis.”

Civello said the services the county offers need to be augmented by police officers trained to provide counseling.

“It's obviously not enough,” Civello said. “We need to be doing more. We need to be proactive. … There's resistance to get treatment from people who have never been police officers.”

The Suffolk County Police Department, in a statement, said it offers mental health and wellness training for its officers, including 40 hours of in-service training on suicide intervention and awareness.

"The health and wellness of our officers is a critical component to policing and the department offers officer wellness training from their time in the academy as recruits and throughout their careers," the statement said.

"Additionally, the department’s police chaplains are available 24/7 and offer support to officers and their families," the statement said. "The department’s Assistant to the Chief of Department for Critical Incident Response proactively reaches out to sworn members following significant work-related or personal incidents or illnesses. We are also working with the law enforcement unions, which offer peer support teams and other assistance."

Romaine said the police department had gone for several years without hiring two police department counselors.

“Both positions were funded but not filled,” said Romaine, who took office in January. “I have been working with [acting Police] Commissioner [Robert] Waring to bring in new mental health professionals to assist our men and women in law enforcement and will be coordinating new initiatives between every county agency and each labor union so we may come together and implement solutions to help those who are suffering and need assistance.”

The county executive urged those suffering from distress to reach out for help. “Never forget that help is just a phone call away,” he said.

Legis. Steven Flotteron, chairman of the public safety committee, said he is on a fact-finding mission to see what the county can do to better support its officers.

“Is there things that we can do better so this never happens again?” Flotteron said.

Suffolk County Sheriff Errol D. Toulon Jr. said his department launched a Wellness Unit last year and a peer support group with more than 30 employees who have been trained to provide services.

“The well-being of our sworn and civilian staff has always been, and remains, paramount,” Toulon said. “I understand the unique stress of this job, and the Sheriff’s Office has made recent steps to enhance our mental health services. … We encourage all Suffolk Sheriff’s Office employees to utilize these 24/7 services for any issue they are having — whether it is job or family related or a mental health or substance use problem.”

The sheriff’s department is holding its first ever Wellness Conference in April, he said.

Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder said the department has an employee assistance program that can be reached 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year to provide individual support to a member, retired member or family member who may be in crisis.

“When an officer or officers experience responding to a particularly tragic scene, they are offered or ordered to attend peer support,” Ryder said in a statement. “There they will be spoken to as a group, be offered coping mechanisms and be offered the ability to express any residual effects they may have from this incident.”

During annual in-service training, the department devotes a segment to wellness, highlighting the peer support team. “We consistently stress that our members must be vigilant, aware and act if they suspect one of our own are acting out of character and may be in need of emotional support,” the commissioner said.

Suffolk County officials are examining the mental health services and other support offered to law enforcement professionals after four officers died by suicide in recent weeks.

“We are devastated at the news of these tragic deaths,” Suffolk County Executive Ed Romaine said in a statement to Newsday. “My administration has wasted no time in addressing the issue of mental health among all of our employees and have begun providing information about mental health resources available to them and their families.”

The suicides included two Suffolk police officers, a deputy sheriff and a probation officer in the past four weeks, Romaine spokesman Michael Martino said.

The latest happened early last week.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Suffolk County officials are examining the mental health services and other support offered to law enforcement professionals after four officers died by suicide in the last four weeks.
  • The suicides included two Suffolk police officers, a deputy sheriff and a probation officer, county officials said. 
  • Suffolk’s police union leader says counselors who have been police officers could make a difference.

“It's reaching epidemic proportions, so something needs to be done, and we are a willing partner with the county,” said Lou Civello, president of the Suffolk County Police Benevolent Association, which is the police department’s largest labor union. “The whole department is hurting over this.”

Following a spate of suicides of NYPD officers in 2019, the police departments in Nassau and Suffolk counties intensified their outreach efforts around mental health and suicide prevention, which included Suffolk’s hiring of a full-time chaplain to reach out to officers immediately following traumatic on-the-job events.

The following year, Congress passed the Law Enforcement Suicide Data Collection Act in an effort to better understand the problem. In its latest annual report in June 2023, the FBI said law enforcement agencies reported 34 deaths by suicide and nine attempted suicides in 2022 and the first four months of 2023. A firearm was used in 29, or 85.3%, of the 34 deaths, the report said.

Agencies self-report, so the data might not capture all law enforcement suicides. “The LESDC cannot succeed without agencies willing, ready, and able to submit data to the FBI,” the report said.

Blue H.E.L.P., a Massachusetts nonprofit that tracks suicides among all first responders, including firefighters and 911 operators, reported 163 nationwide last year.

The reasons for suicide among law enforcement professionals are varied, and could be unrelated to their work, experts say, although police and other law enforcement officers can find themselves responding to emotionally charged situations.

“I think certainly it's the stress of the job,” said Civello, the Suffolk union head. “The job has become more stressful, and I think we need to do more to meet the needs of the modern law enforcement officer and people who deal with psychological trauma on a regular basis.”

Civello said the services the county offers need to be augmented by police officers trained to provide counseling.

“It's obviously not enough,” Civello said. “We need to be doing more. We need to be proactive. … There's resistance to get treatment from people who have never been police officers.”

The Suffolk County Police Department, in a statement, said it offers mental health and wellness training for its officers, including 40 hours of in-service training on suicide intervention and awareness.

"The health and wellness of our officers is a critical component to policing and the department offers officer wellness training from their time in the academy as recruits and throughout their careers," the statement said.

"Additionally, the department’s police chaplains are available 24/7 and offer support to officers and their families," the statement said. "The department’s Assistant to the Chief of Department for Critical Incident Response proactively reaches out to sworn members following significant work-related or personal incidents or illnesses. We are also working with the law enforcement unions, which offer peer support teams and other assistance."

Romaine said the police department had gone for several years without hiring two police department counselors.

“Both positions were funded but not filled,” said Romaine, who took office in January. “I have been working with [acting Police] Commissioner [Robert] Waring to bring in new mental health professionals to assist our men and women in law enforcement and will be coordinating new initiatives between every county agency and each labor union so we may come together and implement solutions to help those who are suffering and need assistance.”

The county executive urged those suffering from distress to reach out for help. “Never forget that help is just a phone call away,” he said.

Legis. Steven Flotteron, chairman of the public safety committee, said he is on a fact-finding mission to see what the county can do to better support its officers.

“Is there things that we can do better so this never happens again?” Flotteron said.

Suffolk County Sheriff Errol D. Toulon Jr. said his department launched a Wellness Unit last year and a peer support group with more than 30 employees who have been trained to provide services.

“The well-being of our sworn and civilian staff has always been, and remains, paramount,” Toulon said. “I understand the unique stress of this job, and the Sheriff’s Office has made recent steps to enhance our mental health services. … We encourage all Suffolk Sheriff’s Office employees to utilize these 24/7 services for any issue they are having — whether it is job or family related or a mental health or substance use problem.”

The sheriff’s department is holding its first ever Wellness Conference in April, he said.

Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder said the department has an employee assistance program that can be reached 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year to provide individual support to a member, retired member or family member who may be in crisis.

“When an officer or officers experience responding to a particularly tragic scene, they are offered or ordered to attend peer support,” Ryder said in a statement. “There they will be spoken to as a group, be offered coping mechanisms and be offered the ability to express any residual effects they may have from this incident.”

During annual in-service training, the department devotes a segment to wellness, highlighting the peer support team. “We consistently stress that our members must be vigilant, aware and act if they suspect one of our own are acting out of character and may be in need of emotional support,” the commissioner said.

Latest Videos

Newsday LogoSUBSCRIBEUnlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months
ACT NOWSALE ENDS SOON | CANCEL ANYTIME