Cops Wrestle With Whether and When to Take a Suicidal Officer’s Gun

Police Officers suicide gun

(AP Photo/Andres Kudacki)

[ED: It’s difficult to read the following report regarding potentially suicidal police officers and guns without contrasting the treatment and deference they receive with that of civilians under the expansion of “red flag” laws. The NYPD describes their process as “a judicious measure carried out with dignity and designed to save a life.” Can anyone say the same about the red flag confiscation process?]

By Tom Hays, Associated Press

A law enforcement think tank wants police departments dealing with a suicide crisis in their ranks to rethink how they make one of their toughest decisions: when to take guns away from troubled officers.

The recommendation to review gun-removal policies is contained in a new report by the Washington-based Police Executive Research Forum released in anticipation of a gathering of police chiefs this weekend in Chicago. It aims to help law enforcement agencies respond to a spate of officer suicides this year in New York City and elsewhere around the country. A comparison of national statistics kept by nonprofit organizations shows that more law enforcement officers have died this year by their own hand than in the line of duty.

Last week, an off-duty sergeant became the 10th New York Police Department officer so far this year to take his own life, nine of them with a gun. Also last week, an officer in Maryland killed himself with a gun.

“There are risks in taking the guns and risks in not taking them,” said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the think tank. “The real question is, how do you support police officers without stigmatizing them?”

The report stems from a conference on police suicides in April at NYPD headquarters attended by police officials from around the world. It says when the subject turned to making officers surrender their weapons as a preventative measure, some officials expressed concerns that it could do more harm than good because it could “threaten his or her identity and purpose” and even “keep some officers from seeking help.”

With that in mind, the report says psychologists should be involved in any decision to remove guns. It also says the officers should be assured that they won’t lose their paychecks and that their weapons will be returned as soon as they’re cleared for duty. Typically, when such a decision is made, officials are supposed to take away all guns the officer owns, not only the service weapon.

“My threshold for recommending gun removal is very high,” said a Los Angeles Police Department psychologist quoted in the report, Denise Jablonski-Kaye. “As I sit and talk to an officer, maybe they have some problems . but if I don’t believe that they’re an imminent threat to themselves, I won’t recommend that their gun be taken.”

In New York, the NYPD recently decided it would stop taking away the badges of officers who are forced to give up their guns in non-disciplinary cases to help remove any stigma. Of the cases the NYPD’s medical division deals with, less than 10% result in guns being taken away, and the vast majority of those officers get their guns back and return to full duty, police said.

In addition, the NYPD unveiled a program this week that will allow officers to get free, confidential mental health services, including counseling and prescription drugs, through the New York-Presbyterian Hospital system. By relying on non-department, non-city providers, police officials hope the program, dubbed Finest Care, can eliminate the stigma associated with seeking help.

Removing a firearm is “part of a comprehensive process to support the officer through a temporary difficulty so they can return to full duty and a fulfilling career,” the NYPD said in a statement. “At its core, it is a judicious measure carried out with dignity and designed to save a life.”

comments

  1. avatar American Patriot says:

    If the laws aren’t apply equally then they shouldn’t be applied at all. Especially to LE’s who most think their above the law anyway & NY of all places.

    1. avatar I Haz A Question says:

      I personally know some LEOs who did this “hush hush” scenario. One of them underwent a personal family tragedy last year and discreetly mentioned to us (me and two other LEOs) that he felt despondent and was having suicidal thoughts. One of the other LEOs voluntarily took possession of his personal (non-duty) guns as a safety precaution, keeping the issue private and never mentioning it to the Department. A few months later, the first LEO made it through his ordeal and was back to “normal”, whereupon his buddy simply returned his guns to him. While I think it was a prudent and appropriate thing for them to do (look out for each other), it definitely is not what we non-sworn citizens are afforded.

      No, we now get the slap-you-in-the-face ERPO treatment. Thin blue line, and all that.

      1. avatar Cloudbuster says:

        Come on. If he really wanted to end himself it is a simple matter to shut the garage door, turn on the cruiser and get a fatal dose of carbon monoxide. Should they confiscate suicidal peoples’ cars, too?

        Suicide prevention has to be dealt with by family and social support of the troubled person. Preventing the actual act is impossible and it is pointless to try.

    2. avatar Garrison Hall says:

      Criminologists have long agreed that the police are a deviant subculture. I should point out that in contrast to popular definitions, sociology does not base it’s definition of deviance on moral prohibitions . Instead, sociology, focuses on deviance as a phenomenon characterized by marked social differentiation. Deviant subcultures tend to have an inner world that is often very different from the taken-for-granted understandings found in mundane, everyday life. As a result, to those of us on the outside of police culture, what is customary among police officers often appears to be strikingly different from what what we customarily define as “normal”.

      1. avatar Merle 0 says:

        That’s very true. It’s also true of many other professions, like the military, nursing, emt’s ect… Doing a job that’s abnormal to most people’s jobs or puts you in positions very different from normal life creates such a culture.

  2. avatar anarchyst says:

    No “carve-outs” or special treatment for police.
    Laws must apply to ALL.

  3. avatar Jim Warren says:

    Y’all are woefully in the dark in regards to the multi-layered justice systems in this country. Equal justice is a myth.

    1. avatar Merle 0 says:

      Equality is a myth too.

    2. avatar Dude says:

      Yep. OJ got away with murder because he was wealthy. And black.

      1. avatar Guesty McGuesterson says:

        No, it was because the D.A. assigned an idiot attorney who didn’t contest the defense team’s “let’s try on the glove to see if it fits” scene which clinched the case.

        1. avatar Dude says:

          That too. Maybe by design. I’m betting someone with less privilege would end up getting a smart prosecutor that would contest all sorts of things, and a jury out for blood.

          Everyone with half a brain knew he was guilty. I’ll never forget when they read the verdict. I was in the school lounge, and some black girl was jumping up and down cheering, like it was some great victory. I’m not trying to make it about race, but if you followed it, you’ll recall they made it about race, as in OJ was a victim.

        2. avatar FedUp says:

          There is widespread belief in many black subcultures that black men shouldn’t go to prison, and going to prison for killing whites makes it even more wrong. The same people think whites shouldn’t be allowed to kill blacks, just because the blacks threatened to kill or even tried to kill them first. (and if the black is under 25, many whites will agree, Justice for Trayvon and all)

          Dumb honkeys gotta learn to just do what blacks want and blacks won’t have to kill them, seems to be the line of thought (he didn’t have to kill my brother, my brother was just robbing him).

  4. avatar Ing says:

    Revised to reflect a wider reality: “The real question is, how do you support police officers stigmatize gun owners without stigmatizing them without eroding support for a police state?”

  5. avatar Edward Rogers says:

    Suicide is a fact. If you want to reduce the number of officers taking their own lives WHY WOULD YOU MAKE AN EXCEPTION TO THEM REGARDING FIREARMS?

    Creating carve- outs for cops would be an egregious error in judgement. We’re not talking about superhumans, impervious to thoughts of self-harm.

    FYI – I don’t necessarily consider euthanasia by firearm a horrible thing…not the best solution but sometimes it’s the only realistic one. In the context of this discussion, what if this particular officer just discovered they had a terminal disease?

    My bottom line is wwe shouldn’t be taking ANYBODY’S firearms!

  6. avatar Sam I Am says:

    A person who wants to commit suicide (without endangering others) should be left alone. Each person is a sovereign (regarding their body). Each person has the sovereign right to keep, or surrender their own life. “Society” has no moral “right” to overturn the decision of a sovereign person to transition out of this world, and into whatever awaits.

    We spend too much time, energy and resources trying to protect people from themselves. If “society” decides to not interfere with a person’s choice to live on the streets, enter the nation illegally, ingest whichever drug a person desires, then that same “society” has not legal, logical or moral justification for preventing suicide.

    It is one thing to offer a suicidal person alternatives, another altogether to deny the personal choice of whether to live, or check-out.

    1. avatar Merle 0 says:

      I say we administer hefty fines upon those who commit suicide. That will teach them to never do it again.

      1. avatar Sam I Am says:

        “I say we administer hefty fines upon those who commit suicide. That will teach them to never do it again.”

        You may be onto something, there.

      2. avatar Hannibal and the Elephants says:

        Suicide is by definition a premeditated capital crime. Not sure that anyone ever committed involuntary suicide. I say give them the death penalty. I guess you’ll need to keep them in some kind of freezer during the lengthy appeals. Even Oliver Cromwell got dragged out of grave to serve his death sentence of being hung, drawn and quartered.

    2. avatar jwm says:

      There was talk, i don’t honestly know if it was put into effect, of putting an expensive safety net on the Golden Gate bridge to stop suicides.’

      I suggested cheap diving boards would be better.

      1. avatar Sam I Am says:

        “There was talk, i don’t honestly know if it was put into effect, of putting an expensive safety net on the Golden Gate bridge to stop suicides.”

        April 2017
        https://time.com/4736962/golden-gate-bridge-suicide-net/

    3. avatar Ton E says:

      Of course the state or other entities can deny that they know whats best for us.

      1. avatar Sam I Am says:

        “Of course the state or other entities can deny that they know whats best for us.”

        Yes they do. They are the rulers, and we the incompetent peasants (also called “deplorables”).

  7. avatar Kevin says:

    From a mental health standpoint, simply removing guns (and doing nothing else) from someone who has suicidal ideation is not a thing. A true suicide watch involves not leaving the person along for a moment, taking anything with an edge, a string, everything. Does anyone think that simply removing guns will do the trick?

    1. avatar Sam I Am says:

      “Does anyone think that simply removing guns will do the trick?”

      Removing guns will prohibit suicide by use of a firearm. And….if it weren’t for guns, people would not so easily contemplate suicide. All the other methods take too much effort, and people will mostly be dissuaded from the act. Guns make normal people do all sorts of evil things, doanchaknow? Guns bad. Orangeman bad. Deplorables bad. Gunowners bad deplorable orangepeople.

      1. avatar Cloudbuster says:

        Bah. Carbon monoxide poisoning is stupid simple and cars are everywhere.

        1. avatar Sam I Am says:

          “Bah. Carbon monoxide poisoning is stupid simple and cars are everywhere.”

          True, but….

          Carbon Monoxide –
          1. find keys
          2. find hose and rags and stuff to make sure you can keep the monoxide in the vehicle
          3. access gasoline-powered vehicle
          4. determine vehicle has sufficient fuel onboard to ensure sufficient monoxide created
          5. arrange hosing and ancillary equipment to be most efficient
          6. start vehicle
          7. sit still long enough for monoxide to reach fatal volume
          8. remain in vehicle when every instinct tells you to flee
          9. the end

          Firearm –
          1. find firearm
          2. ensure sufficient ammo to complete the job
          3. insert firearm into mouth
          4. pull trigger
          5. the end

          Firearm requires half the steps, and a fraction of the time needed for carbon monoxide death.

        2. avatar Cloudbuster says:

          Breaking the process down into a whole bunch of trivial steps to make it seem more complicated is not really convincing.

        3. avatar Sam I Am says:

          Trivial steps?? Suicide is trivial?

          And breaking down the act into steps isn’t convincing of what? Isn’t convincing that suicide by firearm is faster, less complicated, more effective than going through the hassle of suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning?

          I am not really one to think that suicides would be dramatically fewer if no firearms were/are available. Just pointing out that, indeed, suicide by firearm is perhaps more attractive because of effectiveness and simplicity. If a person wants out, why should the prohibition of a specific tool be denied by those who will remain?

        4. avatar Hannibal says:

          And yet people don’t kill themselves with cars like they do with guns. Why do you think that is?

          It’s because guns are easy, impulsive, quick, dramatic, and often basically painless if used right. Suicide is often an impulsive decision due to temporary circumstances. Those that have been planning it out may very well figure out a different method, but let’s not pretend that guns have nothing to do with suicide rates. That’s intellectually dishonest.

        5. avatar Cloudbuster says:

          let’s not pretend that guns have nothing to do with suicide rates. That’s intellectually dishonest

          You ignore that there is real world data showing that there are societies with much lower access to guns, such as Japan, that have much higher suicide rates. Thus, restricting access to guns doesn’t necessarily lower suicide rates. People simply use different means in the absence of guns, therefore Sam I Am’s attempt to paint the differential in difficulty between suicide by gun vs. carbon monoxide as meaningful are simply a distraction.

        6. avatar Sam I Am says:

          “People simply use different means in the absence of guns, therefore Sam I Am’s attempt to paint the differential in difficulty between suicide by gun vs. carbon monoxide as meaningful are simply a distraction.”

          You talk about what happens in other countries. This is ‘murica. We are different; we can do it better. We can do free medical care better. We can do child care better. We can do education better. We can do gun control better. We can do democratic socialism better. We can do everything better than anywhere else. We put a man on the mood. We invented Pet Rocks. We are the champions, my friend.

          ‘Murica !!!!!!

        7. avatar Cloudbuster says:

          Trivial steps?? Suicide is trivial?

          You win this week’s award for Most Egregious Deliberate Misframing of a Phrase Taken Out of Context.

          Congratulations.

          Your award is that I will forever consider you a deceitful little weasel who is unworthy of being taken seriously.

        8. avatar Dave G. says:

          @Cloudbuster, Sam I Am, and Hannibal:
          You guys have all got it wrong. Sleeping pills are the most “attractive” way to off one’s self.

        9. avatar Cloudbuster says:

          You guys have all got it wrong. Sleeping pills are the most “attractive” way to off one’s self.

          My carbon monoxide example was just meant to illustrate one possible way that people can easily commit suicide in the absence of guns. Of course there are many, many ways to do so.

        10. avatar MarkPA says:

          There are 60 ways to leave your lover; and lots more to leave this veil of tears. But this observation doesn’t really address the issue that allows the anti-gunners to use suicide-by-gun as an issue.

          Someone with suicidal ideation + a gun can go from ideation to execution in seconds. No time for a second thought about the idea of suicide.

          The experts on suicide assert that suicidal ideation comes and goes from moment to moment. Suppose a person has thoughts: A, B, C, . . . S, . . . X, Y, and Z. ‘S’ represents suicidal ideation. If the stream of consciousness is: A->B->C->S->Gun->Trigger->Bang there isn’t much opportunity for a different thought to intervene between: S->Gun->Trigger->Bang.

          Conversely, if the stream of consciousness is: A->B->C->S->Bridge->Keys->Car->Drive->Bridge->Jump, there is a lot of time for a different thought to intervene.

          If it’s A->B->C->S->Pills->Swallow->Water then there remains time to call 9-1-1.

          We need a coherent answer to this argument. We have the perfect artifact for executing on suicidal ideation without much time for either a change-of-idea or recovery after execution. Ignoring this fact doesn’t make it go away.

          We need some alternative answer. By way of illustration, we can offer that a person with suicidal ideation will probably have that idea regularly over a long enough time-frame. Eventually, he will have the idea to suicide when he is coincidently crossing a bridge or crossing auto/train traffic. The suicidal ideation needs to be arrested before it becomes acute.

          Somehow, those with suicidal ideation – and those they live/work with – need to recognize the phenomena of that ideation and seek help before it becomes acute. Tinkering with access to effective means-of-suicide is a focus on too-little/too-late.

          Our argument of 60 ways to leave this veil of tears is unpersuasive. We need to steer the discussion up-stream to identifying symptoms of ideation and to intervention early-on; long before the choice of means and access become the emergency issue.

        11. avatar Sam I Am says:

          “We need to steer the discussion up-stream to identifying symptoms of ideation and to intervention early-on; long before the choice of means and access become the emergency issue.”

          Disagree. Everyone should leave everyone else alone. Intervention as a means to prevent a suicide is prima facie the idea that someone outside the sovereign individual has rights superior to the individual. If someone wants to turn in their life card, where is the authority to prevent it? To be entirely crass, suicide is a self-healing proposition.

        12. avatar MarkPA says:

          I understand and respect your point.

          For the sake of clarifying the debate, let us suppose for a moment that it is futile to try to identify individuals who are having suicidal ideation. Let’s further suppose that it is impossible to successfully help them deal with their suicidal ideation. And, for good measure, even if these were possible, it would be immoral to even attempt to read their signs of ideation or try to dissuade them.

          With this set of assumptions, let us remain silent and say nothing to the gun controllers to distract them from their mission to ban guns which are highly useful tools for suicide.

          Well, how about another tactic?

          When the gun controllers say that they want to ban guns we might counter: ‘Look! There goes a rabbit!’ Should we do so we might dissuade fair minded observers of the gun debate from following the Pied Piper down the primrose path.

          Perhaps a more intellectually honest alternative tactic would be to say: ‘Look, half of American suicides are by gun; the other half are by other means. Mariners hang themselves with rope; pharmacists overdose. Do ONLY gun-owners’ lives matter? Or, do mariners’ and pharmacists’ lives matter also?’

          I accept that you regard the second response to be morally repugnant. Gun-owners, mariners and pharmacists are all equally privileged to suicide by whatever might be their means of choice.

          I am not as principled as you are. For the preservation of the Second Amendment I’m willing to soften my stance on the assumptions conceded above to inject into the debate lines of inquiry that might cause observers of the debate to view suicide by guns in a somewhat broader context.

          You see, such observes of the debate are NOT apt to concede the assumptions recited above. They may actually be keenly interested in identifying suicidal ideation and intervention. Why should we remain silent and have them concentrate on gun-owners? Why not encourage them to include in their efforts (however futile they might be) mariners’ ropes and pharmacists drugs?

          Eventually, they might realise the difficulty of forcing mariners to safe-store their ropes and pharmacists to safe-store their toxic inventories. Whereupon they might also see the difficulty of compelling gun users to safe-store their firearms.

          Moreover, it would be still more difficult to deprive mariners of ropes or pharmacists of drugs. Then, and then only, would they see the difficulty of denying farmers firearms, likewise members of other professions, and likewise everyone who has a right to the means of an effective self-defense.

        13. avatar Sam I Am says:

          Thanks for the well written comment.

          The suicide issue has two elements for me. Perhaps one might be considered esoteric (leave potential suicides alone). This stance presupposes (an unstated element) that the entirety of the “intervention” is simply offering alternative (might be a long session, or more than one) propositions. After that attempt to ascertain whether the suicide is committed to act, no further “intervention” (just ask the person not to harm anyone else, and not make a mess).

          The second element is debating the utility of gun confiscation from a person committed to suicide. The rabid anti-gunner will refuse to entertain the idea that anyone should have a gun, for any reason. For which I would revert to first principle: no authority to interfere with a sovereign person’s decision. And would enjoy turning the “my body, my choice” rubric back onto the oh so concerned anti-gunner/likely pro-abortionist.

          Now, you have given me a new thought, that I might employ as element three: challenge the anti-gun rescuer of suicidal persons with the value of life scenario you provided: gun owner v. people using other means. However, I suspect the anti-gunner will simply declare, “All life is precious, and while we need to address all the reasons for people contemplating suicide, if we can eliminate one-third of the deaths (firearm related), we have gone a long way to resolving the entire problem”. Now here, we would have a logical fallacy: deprived of guns, people who would use a gun if available will no longer be attracted to suicide as a problem-solver. And since anti-gunners care about nothing else other than complete absence of guns, the conversation is likely to end there. At this point, I could use a good idea of how to keep the conversation going, and eventually persuade the anti-gunner that guns are not the cause of suicides; removing guns is not the solution.

          One thing that puzzles me is how potential suicides (by any means) are a part of the “mental health” buzz that is currently fashionable. From personal experiences, I can tell you that it is highly unlikely people planning suicide are mentally ill. Even though suicidal people have shifted their reality from what we would see as logical, they are not mentally ill. Seeking to “fix” the problems that drive people to suicide as a part of “mental health” is to totally misunderstand/mischaracterize the issue. Enormous waste of resources lies in this direction.

      2. avatar The Crimson Pirate says:

        Suicide rates in countries with restrictive or prohibitive firearm laws are mostly equal to or worse than in the US. Other methods are commonly and easily used. Taking a suicidal persons firearm is really completely meaningless.

        1. avatar Cloudbuster says:

          Exactly.

        2. avatar Sam I Am says:

          “Taking a suicidal persons firearm is really completely meaningless.”

          No, no, no. You don’t understand. Guns.

  8. avatar WI Patriot says:

    “Cops Wrestle With Whether and When to Take a Suicidal Officer’s Gun”

    Well, don’t “red flag” laws apply to everyone…??? /sar

  9. avatar FedUp says:

    If somebody is about ready to commit suicide, experiencing an armed robbery home invasion via ERPO is guaranteed to make him less despondent and save his life, right? Right?

    (before complaining about this comment, please verify the calibration on your sarcasm detector)

    1. avatar Sam I Am says:

      “If somebody is about ready to commit suicide, experiencing an armed robbery home invasion via ERPO is guaranteed to make him less despondent and save his life, right? Right?”

      That form of intervention is only effective for/on non-LE persons; settled science.

    2. avatar Cloudbuster says:

      Hello, suicidal person! Your suicide by cop delivery has arrived!

      1. avatar Hannibal and the Elephants says:

        I wonder if Amazon Prime will be offering that service?

  10. avatar Ed P. says:

    Wouldn’t taking an officer’s firearms make them even more despondent? Suicide is about self-worth. The act of taking an LEO’s badge and gun is tantamount to taking away the officer’s identity. The NYPD’s decision to let the officer’s keep their badges, to me, goes a long ways to keeping their identity intact. How is a dept. to know that they have all of the officer ‘s firearms? Removing firearms is not the answer. A suicide can be a suicide whatever the method chosen.

    1. avatar Ed Rogers says:

      I suspect you’re correct, within a subset of police officers. Some don’t particularly care for guns. I’d like to hear from some department instructors on their experience. I’d like to know the percentage of officers that fail their qualifications annually. Let that group keep their firearms and confiscate from the rest. /sarc

  11. avatar DesertDave says:

    My question, how many of these suicidal police were put on anti-depressant drugs? Anti-depressant drugs cause suicide. My guess all of them. Get off the drugs boys.

  12. avatar Shadow says:

    If this was not a fellow police officer who was suicidal, not only would cops (state troopers, etc.) be more than willing to take that person’s firearms, and not wrestle in the least about whether they should do so, removing that persons firearms away (for good), they would also not have any problems with shooting and killing that said suicidal person, as well, and really put them out of their misery. Funny how when it comes to one of their own, the rules suddenly change. But then again, has it not always been that way?

  13. avatar Otto13 says:

    Put him with a new partner about to retire, chase Gary Busey around for a while, solve the west coasts heroin problem. Duh

  14. avatar MarkPA says:

    I call upon all my fellow PotG for a reasonable, common-sense, compromise to deal with this tragic problem of troubled police officers.

    Simply take away their machine guns and high-capacity magazine semi-autos and temporarily issue them single-shot handguns.

    After all, we have to recognize that police officers have accumulated some number of not-altogether-satisfied customers. They have a right to defend themselves. Given their marksmanship skills – well known to be superior to those of mere citizens – they should be able to successfully ward-off assailants with a single-shot.

    Can’t we all come together and support our nation’s finest who have always supported 2A rights for ordinary citizens?

  15. avatar GS650G says:

    If they take a suicidal cops gun then take knives, rope, pills, car keys and lock him up. But then thats what they would like red flag laws to do.

  16. avatar Hannibal says:

    Guess my last comment never posted due to VPN stuff.

    I don’t think the government should be in the business of taking away people’s rights to protect them from themselves. Sounds kinda silly when you say it like that, right? So if a department feels the need to take someone’s sidearm… alright, I guess… but I don’t think anyone’s personal weapons should be taken by the state due to a possible suicidal risk.

    If departments want to reduce suicides they’ll promote better leaders. Anyone remember the hospital scene from The Wire (viewable on YT)? Rawls is an ass and absolutely hates McNulty but knows when he has to step up and say something to him. Of course having bosses that know how to do that isn’t addressing the root causes of suicide in cops, but I don’t think the country is willing to do that. It’s going to take a change in public perception or policy of policing for that. Either stop expecting cops to do everything (and passing nonsense laws and telling them to enforce them) or not be shocked when things go wrong.

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