Exploring the Problem of Police Suicides

Get the Facts on Suicides Among Law Enforcement Officers

Police Officer in Mourning
••• Scott Olson/Getty Images

Any time a police officer loses her life in the line of duty is a cause for mourning. Law enforcement officers around the world will tell you there are few events sadder than a fallen fellow officer's funeral. And while much is made of law enforcement line of duty deaths, there are other dangers lurking for officers that are just as sinister even as they are far less talked about. Chief among those dangers is the problem of police officer suicides.

What Are Some of the Myths About Police Suicides?

There are many assumptions made about the day-to-day life of a police officer and what is does to a person's psyche. With those assumptions comes the belief that police suicide is a rampant problem, with some people placing the figure at well above 400 suicides per year in the United Stated alone.

Inflated suicide rates are not the only myths and assumptions made about self-inflected officer deaths. Others include causes - such as the widely held but unsubstantiated belief that police get divorced more often than the rest of the population, or the idea that alcohol and drug abuse occur more frequently among officers.

Noe of these beliefs are, in fact true. At least, they are unsubstantiated. Instead, they're based on information that has been passed on and on based on perceptions, stereotypes and misunderstandings of the profession. Those misconceptions include the mistaken belief that police departments under report police suicides and attempt to cover them up.

What is the Actual Suicide Rate for Police Officers?

This is not to say that the number of suicides by police officers is not concerning. In fact, actual studies conducted by the Badge of Life organization places the rate of police suicides at anywhere between 125 and 150 per year, or about 17 suicides per 100,000 officers.

That rate is nearly triple the number of officers who are killed by criminals each year, and almost double those killed in traffic crashes. In fact, the suicide rate for officers is still as high or higher than the number of officers killed in the line of duty each year.

So, while the rate is not as high as is often reported, it is nonetheless significant when you compare it to line of duty deaths. So significant, in fact, that police suicide has been labeled "the other line of duty death."

Do Police Officers Commit Suicide More Often Than Other Professionals?

While the Badge of Life reports the suicide rate for police officers at about 17 per 100,000 officers, the rate of the general population is estimated at 11 suicides per 100,000 people according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control. 

Law enforcement officers, then, can be said to be 1.5 times more likely to commit suicide than the general population. By comparison, military members have been found to be nearly twice as likely to commit suicide than the general population.

Why Are Police Suicides Higher Than the Average Population?

There is a lot of speculation as to why law enforcement officer suicides are higher than others, including those we've already discussed - alcoholism, depression and ostensibly higher divorce rates. In truth, those issues may only be symptoms of a bigger problem: post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The truth is, an average law enforcement career is well-suited to produce PTSD for some officers. Between the long hours, the fatigue, the potential health issues that come with the job and, not at all least, the trauma and tragedy that officers are exposed to, it is easy to understand how PTSD may contribute to higher suicide rates among officers.

What Can Be Done to Prevent Police Officer Suicides?

No one can fully understand why an individual might choose to take his own life. But experts recommend implementation of mental and physical wellness programs, employees assistance services and formal and informal peer support systems.