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Just days after the eighth and ninth New York City police officers killed themselves this year, the head of the city’s police union had some advice for members of the department struggling with depression and mental illness: “Don’t fucking do it.”
“Officers, if you’re on the edge, contemplating suicide, don’t fucking do it,” New York Police Benevolent Association President Pat Lynch said in a video on Twitter Thursday. “C’mon. It solves nothing and leaves devastation behind you.”
But the NYPD thinks it has some more helpful solutions in the works: It’s making the department’s mental health crisis their “number one priority” with a three-part plan, Commissioner James O’Neill told 1010 WINS Thursday.
The first step is an independent service where officers can anonymously set up an appointment or a Facetime call with a mental health professional within 24 hours. The department will also expand its health insurance to cover a wider variety of mental health issues. Finally, department-issued smartphones will soon have an anti-suicide app preinstalled.
O’Neill told 1010 Wins that the app is coming to police phones in a matter of days. The NYPD also sent its officers a 22-question survey, which asked them about the effectiveness of the available mental health programs already available.
"Press on that app and it'll give you everything you need to know where help is, and most importantly, what the signs of suicide are," O'Neill told 1010 WINS. "I urge every member of the department, when it appears on your phone, take a look at it."
But for Lynch, the head of the city’s police union, those efforts do little for the department. He called out politicians for not addressing the real issues he said are contributing to officers’ deteriorating mental health. Most people who consider suicide don’t follow through, and recovery is possible.
“We’ve been very clear about what we need,” Lynch continued in the Twitter video. “Provide mental health benefits that’ll cover the high-quality professional treatment we need, and accommodate us when we’re in crisis. Stop destroying the careers of cops reaching out for help. End the demonizing and anti-cop rhetoric. Reduce the bureaucratic torment of the job rather than adding to it all the time. Pay us like other police officers and treat us like professionals.”
Lynch has long been critical of the leadership in New York City. He’s been outraged by the calls for officer Daniel Pantaleo’s termination in the 2014 chokehold death of Eric Garner and has been the brains behind the national organized effort to protest Mayor Bill de Blasio’s presidential campaign in states like Michigan, Iowa, and South Carolina.
“The blood is on you”
Fifty-six-year-old Officer Robert Echeverria, a 25-year veteran of the force, died by a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head in his Southeast Queens home Wednesday morning. He’s the seventh officer to die by suicide since June and the ninth this year. Just the day before, 35-year-old Johnny Rios, an eight-year veteran, died under the same circumstances in his home in Yonkers.
States like Florida, Texas, California, and New York each saw at least ten police suicides in 2018, according to the law enforcement suicide prevention nonprofit Blue H.E.L.P. And the number of police officers who have died by suicide in the U.S. has outpaced the number of officers killed in the line of duty for three years now.
Echeverria’s death, in particular, has raised serious questions about the effectiveness of the department’s mental health assistance efforts. His sister Eileen told the New York Post Thursday that she warned the NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau that her brother was mentally unstable and had verbalized suicidal thoughts. Though the department confiscated officer Echeverria’s gun, they returned it just a few days later after an investigation determined that he was not a threat to himself or others.
Eileen is furious that the department botched their chance to intervene and prevent her brother's death.
“I said to them my brother is going to kill himself and the blood is on you,” Eileen told the Post. “Almost two months to the day, my brother killed himself, and now I have to bury him. The NYPD destroyed my entire family. [They] didn’t give a shit.”
She also called de Blasio “a piece of shit mayor who doesn’t care about police.”
If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text TALK to 741741, or visit https://suicidepreventionlifel... for more information.
Cover image: New York City Police Commissioner James. P. O'Neill (podium) speaks during a press conference. (Photo by Anthony Behar/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)