CHICAGO — There have been a half-dozen police suicides this year.
Recently WGN’s Dina Bair sat down with a Chicago police officer who shared his thoughts on the mental health struggles and stressors he and his fellow comrades face each day on the job.
Officers are not allowed to speak out publicly without permission from higher command so he asked that his identity be protected.
He did not want WGN to use his voice. But he wanted his words to be heard.
“Police work isn’t neat, it isn’t pretty. It is brutal, it’s intense and it’s extreme,” he said. “A night in Englewood or Lawndale on midnights and going through a gangway on a shots fired call, these can become very heated exchanges and very violent encounters. Ultimately, we want to go home to our families.”
The officer grew up on the Northwest Side. As a child, he knew he wanted to be a police officer.
“When you’re little you hear a siren, I would get on a bike and try to find them,” he said.
Unfortunately, I’ve got friends on the department, and they are good people, but they are damaged severely from doing this for several years. I’m sure if I truly reflected on myself, I would admit to being damaged. It’s the perception that all Chicago police officers are corrupt, all of them are racist, all of them are violent sociopaths. I think that wears on people, and I think it beats them up. We see a lot of negative things. If we have poor coping skills, we won’t deal well with it. Holding all negative in isn’t good.
During his 25-plus year career with CPD, he’s lost four friends on the force to suicide.
“Each one stings, they sting. It’s always the same answer, you just never thought it’d be them,” he said. “It is hard to get officers to open up. We feel and act like we should have an ‘S’ on our chest, and nothing should bother us. We all think we are superman or superwoman. We got to remember that we’re human like everybody else. We need to get rid of the stigma of talking things out.”
For me, I can deal with the stuff on the street, I can deal with the violence, I can deal with the blood, I can deal with all that. It’s probably more the in-house politics that gets more frustrating than anything. Unfortunately, there’s a level of distrust. Some supervisors just don’t believe in it. If somebody says they need help, don’t be matter of fact, and don’t brush them off. The hardest part is making the first call. Sometimes we need to just talk. People need to remember we’re not perfect. We’re human.
The officer says he believes Superintendent Eddie Johnson genuinely cares. He has provided for more mental health counselors and clinicians through the CPD Employee Assistance Program. But with Johnson’s retirement there’s no guarantee those mental health advances will continue.
Chicago Police Professional Counseling 24/7
Police Chaplains Ministry
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline