The NYPD plans to mine personnel data about each of its officers, such as disciplinary records and off-the-job problems, in an effort to reach cops at risk of suicide, the department wrote in response to a report issued Tuesday by its inspector general.
Other areas of analysis to screen for suicide risk should be arrests made and use-of-force allegations, according to recommendations in the report, “An Investigation of NYPD’s Officer Wellness and Safety Services,” issued by Inspector General Philip K. Eure.
The report's release comes as the NYPD searches for ways to address a spike in officers dying by suicide in 2019. So far this year, nine NYPD officers have killed themselves. In June alone, four officers took their own lives.
Also that month, NYPD Commissioner James O'Neill tweeted, “Seeking help is never a sign of weakness In fact, it’s a sign of great strength.”
The department has responded by extending counseling services to officers and encouraging cops to use them, retaining mental health experts, and seeking to reduce stigmas that are said to be barriers to getting help.
“NYPD’s internal support services are underutilized, that a perception or fear of stigmatization is a common explanation for underused services, and that, until recently, broad categories of uniformed members did not receive formal NYPD training on mental health and wellness after graduating from the police academy,” the inspector general's report said.
According to the department's response, the NYPD is also anticipating acquiring therapy dogs and will offer a smartphone app next month for officers that covers topics like mental health and suicide prevention. Other department efforts include potentially integrating meditation and deep breathing into training, reconsidering policies limiting cops’ use of certain prescription medicines, and extending support services to new retirees, several of whom have died by suicide this year.
The department is also eyeing mandatory mental-health checkups for all cops.
Eure's report said officers about to retire should get mandatory training to reduce the likelihood they will kill themselves. The NYPD accepted that recommendation as well.
Cops and firefighters are more likely to die by suicide than in the line of duty, according to a 2018 report by the Ruderman Family Foundation, which found that people in those professions kill themselves at a higher rate than in the general population.
There were 49 active-duty officers in the NYPD who died by suicide between 2010 and this year, the inspector general's report said.
According to the report’s results of a survey sent to all uniformed NYPD personnel who left the department in 2016 — to which about 15 percent responded:
- A quarter of respondents — 44 out of 174 — reported experiencing "at least one period of emotional stress, trauma, or substance abuse during their careers" that caused them to consider seeking help, but only two thirds actually did.
- Half of the respondents who considered seeking help feared the NYPD or colleagues would find out.
The NYPD has accepted the report's recommendations, according to the response, by the NYPD's deputy commissioner for risk management bureau, Jeffrey Schlanger.
The data to be mined — and incorporated into the NYPD’s existing early-intervention program known as the Risk Assessment Information Liability System, or RAILS — will factor into a new “officer wellness” category. The data will also be fused with indicators such as “officers involved in personal domestic incidents or alcohol-related offenses,” to which the Internal Affairs Bureau has access, according to the report.
"Although IAB houses these data," the report says, "NYPD does not actively review them for trends nor is such information fed into RAILS as performance indicators that could be used to identify at-risk officers who may require officer wellness intervention."
The report did not name which prescription drugs, or category of prescription drugs, are to be reevaluated but, according to Stu London, an outside attorney for the NYPD’s Police Benevolent Association labor union, the department already scrutinizes an officer taking any prescription drug that could impair the ability to handle a firearm.
The NYPD's press office did not immediately respond to an email Tuesday seeking more information.