The NYPD plans to look at its policy of removing firearms from troubled officers and to push peer-to-peer counseling in various commands in the aftermath of a number of officers taking their own lives in June, Police Commissioner James O’Neill said Friday.
“To have four members of the service in less than a month — in May you wouldn’t think that would happen,” O’Neill told reporters during a news briefing at police headquarters in lower Manhattan.
O’Neill was referring to the four officer suicides this month that rocked the police force and prompted the NYPD to seek help from other departments, including the Chicago PD. Beginning in mid-2018, that police department experienced its own reported spate of six cases where officers took their own lives.
The matter of suicide prevention is such a priority that NYPD Chief of Department Terence Monahan reached out to Superintendent Eddie Johnson in Chicago to learn what police there did to deal with the suicide problem last year, O’Neill said.
Johnson recommended that the NYPD assess its policy of when removal of a firearm from an officer is warranted, and also employ peer-to-peer counseling, where officers get help from fellow officers, O’Neill said.
“We really have to take a serious look at our internal policies, about how we return people to duty, how we take them off of full duty,” O’Neill said. “This is an extremely difficult job; people are exposed to a lot of stresses, a lot of trauma.”
Asked if officer reluctance to seek help because of fear about being stigmatized is an issue, O’Neill acknowledged that it was, and that it needed attention.
“With that stigma comes a fear that if I step forward, that is going to have a permanent impact on who I am and what I do, and my career,” O’Neill said.
“The stigma can be overcome,” he said.
O’Neill and the department were stunned by the four suicides this month. Usually the department loses about four to five officers a year to suicide.
On June 5, Assistant Chief Steven Silks of the Queens North command shot himself as he sat in his unmarked police vehicle in Forest Hills. Silks, 62, was within a few weeks of the mandatory retirement age of 63 when he died.
His death was followed in quick succession by the suicide of Joseph Calabrese, 57, of Brooklyn, and two other officers, including a 29-year-old from Staten Island a 53-year-old officer who took his life Thursday at his Hicksville home.