New law aims to shed spotlight on crisis of suicide deaths among first responders
Previously deaths by suicide were often categorized as “accidents” or “mistakes in official documentation.
CINCINNATI (WXIX) - A new federal law will create the first official database of deaths by suicide among first responders in the hopes of documenting and addressing this ongoing crisis.
The Law Enforcement Suicide Data Collection Act took effect Jan. 1, 2022. First responders like Hamilton County Sheriff’s Cpl. William Porzel say it’s crucial agencies submit the data.
“This is a very serious issue that needs to be brought to the forefront,” Porzel said. “We have to put a light on it. We have to show it or we’re never going to be able to understand or move past it.”
Porzel serves on the Miami Valley Critical Incident Stress Management Team. “We respond to help the officers on-scene,” he explained, “help with the stress of the critical incident that they’re being involved with.”
The CDC places police officers in the “increased risk” category for death by suicide.
“Suicide rates in law enforcement and first responders in general is something that’s not really kept track of because we don’t want to talk about it, we don’t want to acknowledge it,” Porzel remarked.
The new law requires the FBI to gather anonymous data on police suicides and attempted suicides from local, state and federal law enforcement agencies.
“It’s a hard collection to stand up, you can imagine there’s a lot of emotions tied to it,” said Amy Blasher, assistant FBI section chief of global law enforcement support.
The data are used to compile national statistics to help find common trends on what lead up to these traumatic events.
Porzel, who says he’s experienced his own mental health struggles, explains for years deaths by suicide were often categorized as “accidents” or “mistakes” in official documentation., leading to significant undercounts and an overreliance on anecdotal data.
“No matter how bad the situation is, we have to start talking about this and acknowledging things for what they are,” he said. “If we can just save one officer’s life then the collection I think has been worth while.”
The data must be reported to Congress by June 2022, but many agencies don’t know it, and reporting is slow. Still, Blasher has hope the program will eventually lead to results.
“Maybe we can break some of that stigma, and folks will come forward and get the help that they deserve, quite frankly, for the jobs that they do everyday,” she said.
Find out more about the Law Enforcement Suicide Data Collection Act here.
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