KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A Kansas City police officer died Monday, three days after he attempted to take his life.
Some are now calling the number of law enforcement officers taking their lives an epidemic. Sadly, a police officer is three times more likely to take their life than be killed by gunfire.
That has metro agencies trying to figure out the best way to help first-responders.
No one really knows an accurate number of police officer suicides because the only ones that are counted are active-duty officers. Retirees are not tracked even though one of the leading causes of police and fire retiree deaths is suicide.
"I can name every single police officer who has died in the line of duty since I have been on the job. I cannot come close to naming everybody who has taken their own lives. That is how bad it is in our field, and something has to change," 28-year KCPD veteran Sgt. Brad Lemon said. He's also the president of the Kansas City Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 99.
Lemon believes it's no longer acceptable to tell officers in crisis to call for help if they need it. Law enforcement needs to take a more proactive approach to help stop officer suicides.
In the police academy, officers learn a lot of defensive tactics, firearms training and state law memorization, among other things.
But Sgt. Michelle Hon said she didn't know enough about what the job was going to do to her emotionally to answer tragic calls day after day, year after year.
"I found myself feeling afraid, having irrational thoughts about something happening to my husband or something happening to her children,” Hon said about the feelings that crept in after 19 years on the job.
Hon utilized the employee assistance program but said she didn't receive the trauma treatment she needed.
"And so I walked away from that experience thinking nothing can help me. This is what it is. This is the cost of doing the job," she said.
Hon eventually got the proper help, but sadly, in the last three years, that cost of doing the job has been the lives of three KCPD police officers who may have felt like there was no help for them.
"PTSD is an animal. It doesn't happen overnight," Lemon said. “It is described as an octopus that has wrapped its tentacles around you, and you can't breathe anymore.”
Hon and Lemon are part of a group working to establish a peer support group at KCPD, something that other departments have been using for a while.
In August, a Missouri law went into effect, protecting conversations between police officers and trained peer support members. Conversations about trauma or mental health issues that previously felt dangerous.
"We have learned to hide this for decades because we have always been told when you tell somebody, you will be unplugged. When you tell somebody, you are not going to be able to work for a while. And people get afraid of that stigma," Lemon said.
The peer support officers will be trained to listen to officers in crisis and equipped to set them up with proper trauma care.
KCPD has been working to establish a peer support group for three years. Now that the legislation has passed, the department is working to finalize its policy and put a trained team in place.
If you are having suicidal thoughts, we urge you to get help immediately.
Go to a hospital, call 911 or call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433).
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