A rash of suicides by police officers has shaken the New York Police Department, leading the commissioner to declare a mental health emergency and highlighting the problem of untreated depression among law enforcement officers nationwide. On Wednesday, Robert Echeverría, 56, became the ninth NYPD officer to take his own life this year, the AP reports. His death came a day after another officer, Johnny Rios, 35, killed himself. The deaths have come despite the department's mounting efforts to encourage officers to seek help for depression and other mental health problems. After two officers killed themselves on back-to-back days in June, Police Commissioner James O'Neill sent a note reminding the more than 36,000 officers and 19,000 civilians in the NYPD that help is available if they're feeling depressed, hopeless or contemplating self-harm. But the deaths continued.
The suicides have been a recurring nightmare for the nation's largest police force and have driven a discussion about the psychological toll of police work, a profession in which discussing mental health was long seen as taboo. But suicide claims more officers' lives annually than violence in the line of duty, and law enforcement leaders around the country say they are hoping to change that mindset. Other precincts have also been dealing with the problem; the Chicago Police Department recently saw the deaths of six officers by suicide in an eight-month stretch. President Trump recently signed a bill authorizing up to $7.5 million in grant funding a year for police suicide prevention efforts, mental health screenings and training to identify officers at risk. Many agencies offer employee assistance programs, but departments are fighting the perception that whatever officers say will get back to their supervisors—or that they'll be ruled unfit for duty. In New York, police brass are encouraging officers to make use of an array of confidential help options, including peer support groups and a 24/7 text line. (Click for more.)