NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill recently sat down with CBS2’s Jessica Moore for one of his first interviews about officer suicides.
O’Neill said he knows his department is dealing with an epidemic.
“It is a mental health crisis in the NYPD,” he said. “We’ve had nine suicides so far this year. Prior to that, we average four to five per year for the last five years.”
A recent Department of Investigations report showed 44 of 174 retired NYPD officers said they considered getting help, but only two-thirds followed through.
Families told Moore there’s fear among the rank and file.
Moore: “If they show weakness in their mind, vulnerability, that they’re going to be branded, that they are going to be thought of as ‘less than.’ How do you combat that? How do you work around that?”
O’Neill: “It’s difficult for people to come forward, especially if you’re in crisis. I think that’s almost impossible. The biggest issue is getting over that hurdle, getting over that hurdle of stigma.”
A retired NYPD sergeant, who wanted to remain anonymous, told Moore the only way to eliminate the stigma of asking for help is to require every member of rank and file to participate in regular mental health checks.
O’Neill said that’s a great suggestion, adding, “Obviously, we don’t have all the answers in the department.”
But O’Neill said the department is taking major steps to enhance its mental health services, recently launching an upgraded peer-to-peer support system, which will place one to three peer counselors in each command, providing anonymous help 24/7.
O’Neill said he doesn’t think the NYPD has a credibility problem when it comes to managing officers’ mental health.
O’Neill: “I think the biggest thing we’re dealing with is that stigma of coming forward. I think people by and large know what services are available. It’s just getting people to use those services. And that’s something we need to do better. We need to do much better at.”
Moore: “And how do you do that?”
O’Neill: “I think it’s with command-level training, the executive-level training, I think having peers that people trust in all the commands, I think that helps. I think just having human relationships at the precinct level.”
It raises the question, does the department need more support from city leaders?
“Jessica, I don’t know if it’s just from city leaders. I think it’s from the city as a whole,” O’Neill said. “People need to respect the cops. They need to respect the men and women of the NYPD. They need to respect people in law enforcement.”
Watch: ‘World Mental Health Day’ Encourages Discussions About Suicide Prevention, Other Mental Health Issues:
Moore asked O’Neil what his personal message would be to an officer who is struggling.
“Take that step. Come forward. Confide in your partner. Confide in a friend. Confide in your family. Get help,” he said.
Until recently, if an officer was considered a threat to himself or others, both gun and badge must be taken away until they’re cleared. O’Neill, however, said the department recently changed that policy to allow the officer to keep their badge while undergoing counseling before returning to active duty.
The NYPD has listed the following resources for officers in need of help.
- Employee Assistance Unit: 646-610-6730
- Chaplains Unit: 212-473-2363
- POPPA (independent from the NYPD): 888-267-7267
- 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