O'Neill: 'Now Is The Time For All Of Us To Come Together, It's A Mental Health Crisis'

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The NYPD was dealing with another tragedy Thursday morning after a second officer this week died by suicide.

The latest death marks the ninth suicide within the ranks of the NYPD in 2019, more than double the total number of four suicides from last year, CBS2’s Jenna DeAngelis reported.

Law enforcement sources said 56-year-old officer Robert Echeverria shot himself in the head in his Laurelton, Queens home. His wife found him and called 911.

The officer was rushed to Long Island Jewish Medical Center, but he couldn’t be saved.

Echeverria was with the NYPD for 25 years.

Neighbors told DeAngelis they’re in disbelief. Derek Clarke said he knew Echeverria from a fitness club and that they would always talk about his family.

“It’s shocking in general,” Clarke said. “He’s just quiet-mannered guy, get a shake, crack a joke. We’d sit at the bar and talk about life. I think his kids were really important to him.”

This death marked the second time this week an NYPD officer took his own life and the seventh time since the beginning of June.

“It has been a very tough year,” NYPD Chief of Detectives Dermot Shea said. “This is not unique to law enforcement, but for us … we are hurting right now.”

Police Commissioner James O’Neill spoke about the rise in officer suicides earlier this week.

“Think about having to respond to shootings and homicides and people hit by trains and people hit by vehicles,” O’Neill said. “You carry that with you all day long, whether you’re on duty or off duty. We have to not be afraid to talk about it and to come forward and to get help is a sign of strength. It’s not a sign of weakness.”

Last month the department launched a task force to prevent officer suicides. Peer teams were also starting to go around to police precincts.

Police Benevolent Association President Pat Lynch used tough love on Twitter, telling officers suicide is not the answer.

“A family is destroyed and can never be made whole,” Lynch said. “Good friends both on and off the job feel betrayed and abandoned by you. Some of them struggle under the same exact burdens as you. You are robbing them of their hope.”

O’Neill said about 800 NYPD staff members will be retraining this month with experts on mental health, stress and suicide. The goal is to eventually train the entire department.

“Now is the time for all of us to come together. It’s a mental health crisis,” O’Neill said. “I think the critical step forward here is peer support and then make sure that once we steer that person to help that that help is effective and that they understand that this is not an end to their career.”

Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams released the following statement Wednesday evening:

“It seems like each day, we hear of another officer who has taken their own life. We are losing members of New York’s Finest to this epidemic faster than we can count, and we need to address it immediately. I know from personal experience how powerful meditation can be for those grappling with trauma and other mental health issues. When I left the NYPD after 22 years on the force, I was dealing with undiagnosed PTSD. I used meditation to bring myself into emotional equilibrium. I, along with the PBA, am calling on Mayor de Blasio and Commissioner O’Neill to implement training for officers on meditation and mindfulness practices, the same way we train them to use weapons. Police departments across the country are beginning to introduce mindfulness practices to help their members. It’s time we do the same.”

NYPD Suicides: Advocates Pushing Department To Offer Mindfulness Training For Officers

The NYPD has listed the following resources for officers in need of help:

NYPD-SPECIFIC:

  • Employee Assistance Unit: 646-610-6730
  • Chaplains Unit: 212-473-2363
  • POPPA (independent from the NYPD): 888-267-7267

OUTSIDE OPTIONS:

  • NYC WELL: Text, call, & chat www.nyc.gov/nycwell
  • Lifeline: 800-273-TALK (8255)
  • Crisis Text Line: Law enforcement officers can text BLUE to 741741 (non-law enforcement can text TALK to 741741)
  • Call 911 for emergencies
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