CHICAGO — Following a WGN-TV report about one Chicago police officer’s mental health ordeal, city officials said they would like a top-to-bottom review of how the process works or, in Sara Hecker’s case, how it didn’t.
“Very sad to watch but not surprised,” said Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th Ward). “We continue to be disappointed in that we’re failing our police officers when they are in crisis.”
O’Shea’s comment follows Hecker’s story about her battle to get mental health help through CPD’s Employee Assistance Program.
SEE ALSO: Veteran cop fights to address deficiencies within CPD’s mental health program
Hecker hurt her knee on the job making an arrest several years ago. She said subsequent surgeries and a knee replacement brought her to a dark place.
Realizing she needed help, Hecker first asked for assistance on March 24, 2022, the same day she was awarded duty disability. More than seven months later, Hecker said she still hasn’t gotten the mental health help she needs through CPD, despite a federal consent decree that mandates assistance within two weeks for any officer who asks.
“I have had days where I did not want to be alive,” Hecker said. “I’m only saying this because it’s hard because I understand these officers that are hurting. I didn’t act on it because of my family. Maybe my story, one day, will help someone from not hurting themselves.”
Since Hecker requested help, five CPD officers have died by suicide.
Hecker and her husband, a Chicago police officer, have gone outside the department’s network to seek therapy. The veteran cop says the sessions gave her the courage to speak out about EAP’s failings.
“I’m hoping that it saves an officer’s life because they matter, they matter, and your family needs you,” she said.
Chicago Fraternal Order of Police president John Catanzara said the union sympathizes with Hecker’s struggles.
“We share her concerns with the EAP program as currently constructed. The FOP has been trying to provide options in cooperation with the city. Unfortunately, EAP was the roadblock from the joint venture. It’s time they walk the walk instead of just talk.”
The Office of Mayor Lori Lightfoot did not immediately respond to WGN’s request for comment.
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, resources are available 24/7 on the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website or by calling 988.