Cynthia Terry, staff writer
Over the past few years, there have been conversations about increasing police officers shooting young male African Americans. These are conversations that need to be had because unarmed, innocent people do not deserve to die by the hands of those sworn to protect society. Angella Henry, Michelle Kenney and Alissa Findley, who have had young and unarmed Black men in their families that were shot and killed by police officers, came together along with the NFL and Jay-Z’s Roc Nation for its “Inspire Change” initiative. This is good because change can hopefully occur regarding police shootings.
I don’t have a problem with this. This cooperation is great progress. The problem is that a very unsettling statistic that doesn’t get mentioned often. At least 228 police officers committed suicide compared to 132 officers who died in the line of duty in 2019. Minnesota had three. New York, California, and Texas had the three highest police suicide rates. There were 172 officer deaths due to suicide in 2018, 168 in 2017 and 143 in 2016. The 2019 total number is a conservative tally, but is still more than all other line-of-duty deaths combined. Suicides have long gone under-reported or been miscategorized in the media as accidents, only now becoming more public.
There is not only just a rise of suicides, but there is an increase in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) among officers. In Minnesota alone, the number of police medical retirements for PTSD and other mental ailments has risen recently — from six in 2006 to 40 in 2019. Minnesota has been recently working to pass laws that extend workers’ compensation to police and other first responders for mental health issues like PTSD. Last year, Bum-In-Chief Trump signed a bill authorizing up to $7.5 million in annual grant funding to police suicide prevention efforts, mental health screenings and training to identify officers at risk.
It’s progress, but more needs to be done. Suicide rates have gone up across the board. Mental health cannot be a taboo subject anymore. It’s okay not to be okay. It’s okay to seek help. Conversations about police shootings are growing stronger. It’s time for serious discussions about mental health among police officers, and about mental health in general, to start growing stronger as well.