Following the ninth suicide of an NYPD officer this year on Aug. 14—the second in that many days—the Police Benevolent Association’s president, Patrick J. Lynch, urged members of the service to reach out to one another when faced with emotional crises but also chastised politicians for what he characterized as their empty entreaties and hypocrisy.
“If you’re on the edge and contemplating suicide, don’t f---ing do it,” Mr. Lynch said in two-minute, 20-second video posted on the PBA’s social-media channels. “It solves nothing and leaves devastation behind you. Just don’t do it.”
On Aug. 14, Officer Robert Echeverria, 56, a 25-year NYPD cop, shot and killed himself in his Queens home. His death followed that of Officer Johnny Rios, 35, who shot himself at his Yonkers home Aug 13. Seven other officers previously killed themselves this year.
Mr. Lynch ripped into “politicians” and, implicitly, NYPD brass, whom he suggested haven’t grasped the extent of officers’ plight.
“For the politicians claiming this is a crisis, just stop. We’ve been very clear about what we need,” he said before enumerating calls for better health coverage and higher pay and a reduction in “bureaucratic torment.”
“You are offering none of that. Instead, you continue to grandstand on the back of police officers and show up when we’re dead,” Mr. Lynch said. “And you think that a few tweets and mental-health-awareness postings will make up for it. Well, it won’t.”
The number of officers who have taken their own lives has left police and mental-health officials stumped and frustrated.
“We are hurting right now,” Chief of Detectives Dermot Shea said during an unrelated press conference Thursday. “It’s been a very tough year. And from the unions to the membership to the executives in the Police Department, we’re all feeling it and we’re all trying as best we can to work come up with initiatives to do more.”
John Petrullo, the director of the city-based Police Organization Providing Peer Assistance organization, said while more officers were calling in, the group’s message has clearly not reached everyone.
“It’s a baffling question for us,” he said. “I have no insight.”
POPPA’s core comprises about 200 active or retired NYPD officers, all of them trained volunteers, who take calls from their fellow officers. In collaboration with the NYPD, they also engage in outreach at police commands citywide.
Mr. Petrullo, a retired NYPD officer, said the organization—which runs a 24/7 hotline at 888-COPSCOP—would bolster its efforts.
“We’re going to continue to remind them help is available,” he said. “It’s doesn’t matter who they call, us or the department. The important thing is that they reach out. Help is available.”
‘Look Out for Each Other’
Mr. Lynch forcefully appealed to officers to support one another, and implored those feeling the brunt of either professional or personal pressure to speak out.
“Some of them struggle under the same exact burdens as you,” he said, addressing fellow cops. But by taking one’s own life, he continued, “you are robbing them of their hope. Never let them believe that this is the answer because it’s not. We’re under siege from all directions. And the only defense we have is each other...We’re cops: we look out for each other.”
The PBA leader suggested that officers who do reach out for help within the department face consequences. “Stop destroying the careers of cops who reach out for help,” he said.
Since June, when four officers took their lives, department officials have emphasized that seeking counseling will not stigmatize officers.
But police-union officials at the time said officers remained fearful, of losing their firearms, getting transferred or losing promotional opportunities.
The officers’ suicides consumed a large part of Mayor de Blasio’s Thursday afternoon press conference, during which he announced changes in public-school admission processes.
He called the suicides “extraordinarily painful” and said administrators would make a concerted effort to enhance the city’s insurance plans to ensure that more health-insurance benefits were available for city workers. “That’s something that we think we can resolve in a matter of days,” he said.
He also addressed the NYPD’s stepped-up endeavors, which include having counselors available at precincts citywide.
Mr. de Blasio said Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill would soon be discussing new initiatives, including counseling and therapy options for officers. But he also counseled family members to reach out for help if they think an officer is nearing a breaking point.
“We need everyone to look out for their partners and everyone they work with,” he said. “It begins with communication and letting our officers know that help is available.”
The Mayor also took sharp issue with a report in the New York Post that ThriveNYC, the mental-health initiative begun by his wife, Chirlane McCray, had withdrawn from an upcoming seminar directed at first-responders when program administrators learned that Blue Lives Matter, a police advocacy group, would be an event co-sponsor.
“It’s a disgusting lie, it’s entirely irresponsible,” he said of the story. “We have been losing police officers—this should be a somber serious discussion, not a politicized discussion, not a cheap shot, not personality assassination.”
He also chastised Staten Island Councilman Joe Borelli, who was helping coordinate the event. Mr. Borelli was quoted in the Post story as saying that the seminar fell apart because of “the PC environment that de Blasio has caused.”
The Mayor hit back.
“My wife has been trying to help people get mental health care for years now,” he said. “And at a moment where the whole city should be unified trying to help our officers, the New York Post decides to politicize and take a cheap shot. That’s disgusting; they should be ashamed of themselves.”
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