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Police Suicides: Awareness, Compassion, Action


Police Suicides: Awareness, Compassion, Action

NYPD Officer Colin Patrick Rossiter. (Credit: Beyond The Badge)
NYPD Officer Colin Patrick Rossiter. (Credit: Beyond The Badge)

While conducting research for this article, I came across a photo of an impressive young NYPD Officer.

It was NYPD Officer Colin Patrick Rossiter, 22 years-old, who tragically lost his life to suicide on March 2, 2023.

According to a social media post, Colin had been involved in a critical incident shortly after his NYPD career began. [i]

Before his NYPD vocation, Colin was a star for the Monsignor Farrell Hockey Team. He also loved the New Jersey Devils.

Colin was known as someone with a heart of gold, always ready to help others. 

Colin Patrick Rossiter is the inspiration for this article.  He was fully dedicated to protecting and serving the people of New York City as a police officer.

May we never forget him, pray for his loved ones, and dedicate ourselves to prevention additional heartbreak.

Inside the Law Enforcement Pressure Cooker

Courtesy Los Angeles Sheriffs Department, Norwalk Station on X

During a recent stay in California, the reality of police suicides hit home again with another national headline.

The article about the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department was titled “Inside the ‘Pressure Cooker’: 4 deaths in 24 hours open up conversation about suicides by police.”

It prompted me to contact law enforcement colleagues to organize a venue to share remarks on the suicide issue.

An invitation was made possible by the collaboration of the U.S. Marshall for the Southern District of New York, the NYPD Southern California Liaison, the Los Angeles County Sherriff’s Department, and the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.

Representatives from fifteen local, state, county, and federal law enforcement agencies attended their monthly event for Orange County Intelligence Assessment Center meeting, and I would be their guest speaker.

My remarks titled 21st Century Policing: Safeguarding Our Communities occurred at the Saddle Brook Church in Lake Forest, California.

The heart of my message was encouragement for law enforcement’s safety, morale, and emotional survival.

Police Suicides: Eyes Wide Open

Compounding the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department tragedies, these are additional heart wrenching stories on police suicides from throughout America:

  • Leaders push for mental health resources after four Suffolk County [Long Island, New York] police officers die by suicide in four weeks
  • About 184 law enforcement officers die by suicide each year: Report
  • Richard Berdnick, Passaic County [New Jersey] Sheriff, fatally shoots himself in restaurant
  • DOJ finds police officer’s suicide after Jan. 6 attack was death in the line of duty
  • Head of Miami police shoots himself on busy highway after domestic dispute
  • Rookie off-duty NYPD cop dies by suicide: Sources
  • ‘Really Concerned’: Five suicides in seven months, San Antonio Police Department says
  • Deputy [Louisiana] who died by suicide left haunting videos on racist policy, division: ‘I’ve had enough’
  • After Chicago Police Department Officer [Patricia Swank] Dies by Suicide, Family Says More Mental Health Support Needed for Officers
  • Chicago police mourns the loss of a deputy chief at police facility
  • Officer suicides spur Chicago police effort to break mental health stigma
  • The Police Widow Trying to Stop the NYPD Suicide Epidemic

In Memoriam: Chicago Police Officer Patricia “Patsy” Swank

Chicago Police Officer Patricia “Patsy” Swank with her young son Scottie. (Public Domain, confirmed by Southwest Chicago Post, Greater Southwest News-Herald, Clear Ridge Reporter & NewsHound, Apr. 3, 2024.

Before we continue, let us reverently pause to honor Chicago Police Officer Patricia “Patsy” Swank (March 17, 1993 – July 2, 2022) of Chicago, IL who passed away unexpectedly from suicide.

Patsy, seen here in happier times with her young son Scottie, is remembered by her loved ones as a beloved, amazing, and beautiful soul.

She served as a Chicago Police Officer for over 6 years, and a graduated Mother Mc Auley High School.

“My Mom, My Wonder Woman, My Heart… I will LOVE and miss you forever” – Scottie

“She will always be our Sunshine.” [ii]

Suicide Statistics

Courtesy NYPD Commissioner on X

According to CDC statistics for the most recent year, suicide is responsible for 48,183 deaths, about one death every 11 minutes.

The number of people who consider, or attempt suicide is even higher. An estimated 12.3 million American adults seriously thought about suicide, 3.5 million planned a suicide attempt, and 1.7 million attempted suicide.

“Suicide affects people of all ages. Suicide was among the top 9 leading causes of death for people ages 10-64. Suicide was the second leading cause of death for people ages 10-14 and 20-34.” [iii]

“Suicide and suicide attempts cause serious emotional, physical, and economic impacts. People who attempt suicide and survive may experience serious injuries that can have long-term effects on their health. They may also experience depression and other mental health concerns.

“Suicide and suicide attempts affect the health and well-being of friends, loved ones, co-workers, and the community. When people die by suicide, their surviving family and friends may experience prolonged grief, shock, anger, guilt, symptoms of depression or anxiety, and even thoughts of suicide themselves.”  [iv]

“Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States…Suicidal thoughts and behaviours affect persons of all ages, leading to lasting effects on families, friends, workplaces, and communities.  Law enforcement professionals are not immune to this serious public health problem.  Studies suggest that suicide rates are particularly high among officers and others in public safety occupations.  Although the exact number of officers who die by suicide each year is not currently known, existing research suggests that officers may be more likely to die by suicide than in the line of duty. [v]

Police Suicide: Danger Behind the Badge

According to the National Consortium on Preventing Law Enforcement Suicide 2023 Report and Recommendations is the following statement:

“Suicide among law enforcement officers is a complex issue and there are many individual and agency factors which can contribute to suicide risk. As compared to the general public, there is an overall higher likelihood of suicide risk and suicidal behaviors among law enforcement personnel. Police officers have elevated rates of suicide, substance misuse, and divorce compared to other professions. Risk factors for suicide also include mental health challenges, social isolation, exposure to trauma, and chronic disease and disability. Protective factors include social connectedness, problem-solving skills, access to mental health care, and reasons for living (such as children). [vi]

Courtesy Chicago Police Department on X

Additionally, the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), the component of the U.S. Department of Justice dedicated to advancing community policing, encourages everyone to take action to prevent law enforcement suicides.

In an edition of their Community Policing Dispatch newsletter, COPS states the following:

“Care for officer’s mental and emotional health should be on par with that for their safety and physical health. In order for prevention efforts to be successful, agencies must also address cultural and environmental barriers to prevention at all levels, e.g., the still-pervasive stigma that discourages at-risk officers from seeking help for fear of negative peer reactions or career ramifications; lack of comprehensive suicide prevention policies; and insufficient training for officers or health care providers.

“There are many people who have a role to play in preventing suicide among law enforcement officers. The attitudes and behaviors of chiefs, supervisors, peers, health care providers, family, friends, faith leaders, and others can all influence officers’ health.”

988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline: Talk To Someone Now – Call 988

If you’re thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, the 988 Lifeline network is available 24/7 across the United States.

The confidential and free 988 Lifeline is available for everyone.

A skilled, trained crisis worker who works at the 988 Lifeline network crisis center closest to you will answer the phone.

Know the Warning Signs

Courtesy Los Angeles Police Department HQ on X

Some warning signs may help determine if a loved one is at risk for suicide, especially if the behavior is new, has increased, or seems related to a painful event, loss, or change.

If you or someone you know exhibits any of these, seek help by calling the Lifeline.

  • Talking about wanting to die or to kill themselves
  • Looking for a way to kill themselves, like searching online or buying a gun
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live
  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
  • Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Withdrawing or isolating themselves
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Extreme mood swings [vii]

“As a 37-year law enforcement professional, I believe it is one of the most challenging professions.

“However, the profession appears to have more challenges now than ever.

“We are leaders and mentors and must respond accordingly.  We must understand our overall mission is public safety. Yet, inseparable to this mission is supporting the men and women who protect and serve.

“Our support must be more than formal recognitions, promotions, and cordial memos. It must be ongoing interactions expressing respect, appreciation, and encouragement.

“We are disproportionately plagued with suicides. As leaders, ongoing formal training on properly responding to warning signs is imperative.  We must protect the protectors.

“We must continually enhance our skills to support anyone in crisis.  When people are struggling, and perhaps unable to express their concerns, we must provide leadership.

“Concerns for all we serve must be courageously converted into action. For example, we may feel that exploring someone considering self-harm may make them uncomfortable. Perhaps it will be considered intrusive, or unwelcomed. Conversely, our concern may offer the support that someone desperately needs for emotional survival.

“Our profession is challenging but honorable. Let us continue with fortitude, confidence, and fidelity.”

Chief Joe Fox, NYPD Chief retd.

Know the Risk Factors

Risk factors are characteristics that make it more likely that someone will consider, attempt, or die by suicide. They can’t cause or predict a suicide attempt, but awareness is essential.

  • Mental disorders, particularly mood disorders, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, and certain personality disorders
  • Alcohol and other substance use disorders
  • Hopelessness
  • Impulsive and/or aggressive tendencies
  • History of trauma or abuse
  • Major physical illnesses
  • Previous suicide attempt(s)
  • Family history of suicide
  • Job or financial loss
  • Loss of relationship(s)
  • Easy access to lethal means
  • Local clusters of suicide
  • Lack of social support and sense of isolation
  • Stigma associated with asking for help
  • Lack of healthcare, especially mental health and substance abuse treatment
  • Cultural and religious beliefs, such as the belief that suicide is a noble resolution of a personal dilemma
  • Exposure to others who have died by suicide (in real life or via the media and Internet) [viii]

When Talking to a Suicidal Person

Although essential to get professional assistance as immediately as possible, here are some do’s when communicating with someone suicidal, especially if you’re the first point of contact:

  • Be yourself. Let the person know you care, that they are not alone. Finding the right words are not nearly as important as showing your concern.
  • Listen. Let your friend or loved one vent and unload their feelings. No matter how negative the conversation seems, the fact that it is taking place is a positive sign.
  • Be sympathetic and non-judgmental. The suicidal person is doing the right thing by talking about their feelings, no matter how difficult it may be to hear.
  • Offer hope. Reassure your loved one that help is available and that the suicidal feelings are temporary. Let the person know that their life is important to you.
  • Take the person seriously. If a suicidal person says things like, “I’m so depressed, I can’t go on,” ask if they’re having thoughts of suicide. You’re allowing them to share their pain with you, not putting ideas in their head. [ix]

Suicide Facts

  • Almost everyone who attempts suicide has given some clue or warning. Don’t ignore even indirect references to death or suicide. Statements like “You’ll be sorry when I’m gone,” “I can’t see any way out,”—no matter how casually or jokingly said—may indicate serious suicidal feelings.
  • Most suicidal people are not psychotic or insane. They are upset, grief-stricken, depressed, or despairing, but extreme distress and emotional pain are not necessarily signs of mental illness.
  • Even a very severely depressed person has mixed feelings about death, fluctuating between wanting to live and wanting to die. Rather than wanting death, they just want the pain to stop—and the impulse to end their life does not last forever.
  • Many people try to get help before attempting suicide. In fact, studies indicate that more than 50 percent of suicide victims had sought medical help in the six months prior to their deaths.
  • You don’t give someone suicidal ideas by talking about suicide. Rather, the opposite is true. Talking openly and honestly about suicidal thoughts and feelings can help save a life. [x]

Prevent a Tragedy: See Something, Say Something

NYPD Officer Colin Rossiter (left) and Chicago Police Officer Patricia Swank. (Credit: Reawakening America LLC)

Each life is sacred and deserving of respect, support, and encouragement.

The maxim “if you see something say something” is applicable not only to crime prevention, but to protecting the lives of all who serve, and all experiencing emotional trauma.

We must continually have our eyes wide open to warning signs of suicide, and the moral courage to respond.

Before concluding, some wise words from a retired police chief colleague on officer mental health and suicide prevention:

“We rightfully spend a lot of time assessing a recruits psychological status.

“However all officers need to be regularly assessed as their careers and experiences move forward.

“Some agencies order officers to attend PTSD screening for certain incidents.

“A good start, but given the nature of the job and the amount of negativity shown by those who hold the purse strings, screening should be at regular intervals throughout a career.”




[iv] Ibid, CDC

[v] Preventing Suicide Among Law Enforcement Officers: An Issue Brief



[viii] Ibid, 988 lifeline


[x] Ibid,

Related Coverage:

21st-Century Policing: Orange County Intelligence Assessment Center Presentation

21St Century Policing: Issues and Response

Police Suicides: Awareness, Prevention, Action

In Memoriam: America’s Fallen Police Officers

American Veteran Suicide Crisis Demands Ethical Leadership

Special thanks: Chief Joe Fox, NYPD retd. for his 20+ years of friendship, and contribution to this article.

Vincent J. Bove (center) with Bergen County Police Chief Association colleagues, May 18, 2017 (Credit: Reawakening America LLC)

About the Author

Vincent J. Bove is a national speaker and author on critical American issues. He authored eighteen cover stories for The Chief of Police, and an additional 300 articles in numerous publications. His most recent books are Reawakening America and Listen to Their Cries.

Bove is recipient of the FBI Director’s Community Leadership Award, and former confidant for players from two world champion New York Yankee teams.

He served as spokesperson for a coalition of Virginia Tech tragedy victim’s families, and authored a report on their behalf.

Bove has conducted extensive leadership presentations for the FBI, the United States Military Academy, law enforcement, educators, security professionals, and students nationwide.

“We must all serve as catalysts to protect our workplaces, schools, communities, public spaces, and houses of worship.  Public safety demands leadership, vigilance, and collaboration.  Security demands comprehensive enhancements, on-going training, effective response to warning signs, and building bridges with law enforcement, private security, and every member of the community.”  Vincent J Bove


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