Following yet another suicide by an NYPD officer, the department detailed its efforts to combat what is bordering on an epidemic.
Sgt. Terrance J. McAvoy, an 8-year cop assigned to the department’s transit detail, shot and killed himself on July 27. Sergeant McAvoy, 30, was the seventh officer to die by his own hand this year and the fifth in less than eight weeks.
Vulnerable to Stress
“These are extremely difficult jobs and when you couple that with whatever personal issues people have, it's not a good recipe,” Commissioner James P. O’Neill said July 29 following a promotion ceremony.
Since early July, First Deputy Commissioner Benjamin Tucker has been shepherding a departmental effort to introduce effective mental-health resources while also easing officers’ apprehensions if and when they sense they may be at a crisis point.
Peer and executive-level trainings are to begin by next week.
In mid-July, a small departmental delegation spent time with their colleagues in Los Angeles, where that police department instituted a suicide-prevention effort in 2007 using a public-health model. “We are seeing that as a real viable option for us,” Mr. Tucker said.
The department will also coordinate with Thrive NYC, first lady Chirlane McCray’s mental-health initiative. Former NYPD Deputy Commissioner for Collaborative Policing Susan Herman, now a senior adviser to the Mayor and Thrive NYC’s Director, and her team have been enlisted to aid in those efforts, he said.
“They're collaborating with us,” Mr. Tucker said. “We're going to provide clinicians that will help us build those teams.”
The NYPD is also building an app for members of the service that will function as a repository of sorts for mental-health and other resources.
In addition to NYPD brass, the department’s Chief Surgeon, its Chief of Personnel and others will be part of the initiative, Mr. Tucker said. The commitment to safeguarding officers is absolute, he said, “even in the midst of...the ongoing tragedy around the loss of our members.”
The task force, he said, would be “doubling down” on the effort to “really think about how we, improve our intervention and our awareness.”
Ms. Herman, who was with the NYPD until a few months ago, said in July that she would work to ensure that officers were made aware of “the wealth of resources” within the department but also those outside the NYPD.
“We are focused on prevention, intervention,” Mr. Tucker said. “It's important that they get the message that we give them the information.”
Commissioner O’Neill acknowledged that while obstacles remain—depression and mental illness still carry stigmas among peers and superior officers— he said police culture has relaxed some in recent decades.
'Didn't Discuss It Then'
“When we all came on in the 1980s...this is something that no one ever spoke about,” he said. “The approach the department has now is vastly different from what is was in the in the ‘80s and ‘90s and even into the 2000s.”
Still, despite the departmental entreaties—including from Chief of Department Terence A. Monahan, who in a video posted on Twitter in June, a month when four members of the service killed themselves, said seeking help “will not prevent you from having a successful career”—officers remain skeptical and can be exceedingly reluctant to seek help, because it’s still ingrained in the culture that doing so could mean the loss of promotional opportunities.
“So this is something that we all have to talk about, and it's, it's a hard thing to do, especially with someone in crisis,” he said. “You have to get someone in crisis to cry out for help. It takes a lot of work and, and it's gotta be done by everybody.”
Mr. Tucker and Mr. O’Neill said a good portion of the task force’s job would be to dispel “myths” about department policies and procedures with regard to officers who reach out.
“Our goal with the work that we're trying to do is to put as much information out there as we can and do it in a very comprehensive way,” the Commissioner said.
That will include building teams of department psychologists and clinicians who will work with commands throughout the department and with civilian officers.
“If we can do that and build that network, they'll be more familiar with the individuals,” he said. “And maybe that will build some trust and they'll be much more comfortable maybe coming forward and getting help. That's really the goal.”
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