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Police suicides 'becoming all too normal,' official says

Posted at 5:12 PM, Feb 11, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-12 11:33:04-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — After a Kansas City police officer took his own life over the weekend, one law enforcement official said that these tragedies have become “all too normal.”

"At least in the first responder world, this is becoming all too normal. And even though we work really hard to try to find another way to get people resources they need and the help they need, we lose some of our members," said Brad Lemon, president of the KC Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 99.

Kansas City and Liberty police officers searched for the KCPD officer Friday night after hearing he was in trouble. They found him suffering from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in the Pleasant Valley Baptist Church parking lot in Liberty. The officer, a 10-year veteran of the department, died Monday.

Police departments across the nation have been battling these issues for a long time. According to Blue H.E.L.P., 159 officers died by suicide in 2018, including three in Kansas and four in Missouri.
"I can name every police officer that has died in the line of duty since I've been on the job. I cannot come close to naming everybody that has chosen to take their own life," Lemon said.

In August, the Kansas City Police Department received the go-ahead to start a peer support team, where 60 members of the department will serve as peer support specialists. The goal of the program is to prevent these types of tragedies from happening by having conversations early.
But months later, the program is still not in place.

"The processes are what they are, and it's taking a while to get policy completed, to get a trained team in place,” Lemon said. “We are working hard to get it.”

All police departments in the metro have some sort of resource dedicated to employee mental health, whether it's an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) provided by the city or a police chaplain program.

As KCPD works to get its program off the ground, officers are mourning the sudden loss of their friend and colleague.

"How do you handle losing a friend? How do you do it? I don't know how you deal with it,” Lemon said.

The officer's family decided to donate his organs. Donations can save up to eight lives and some, such as tissue, can enhance up to 75 lives.

"I think people die in tragic circumstances, unfortunately, and oftentimes for those families donation can be a gift for them to know that despite how someone passed away, they are still able to be a hero and leave that legacy of life," said Megan Maciel, community engagement coordinator at Midwest Transplant Network.

The network said Missouri and Kansas have some of the highest organ donation rates in the country.

Here is a look at the mental health resources available at police departments in the metro:

- Olathe: Peer support program since 2007; BeStow (Beyond Emotional Survival Toward Officer Wellness) started in 2012; contracted psychologist
- Shawnee: EAP; peer support program started two years ago, has about a dozen officers
- Gardner: Peer support program
- Prairie Village: EAP; peer support program started a few years ago, has seven to eight officers
- Overland Park: Peer support program started two years ago, has 24 officers
- Liberty: Peer support program started in early 2018
- Independence: Peer support program started around a year ago, has eight officers
- Lenexa: Peer support program started in the late 1990s, has 12-15 officers
- Grandview: EAP; police chaplain program started 10 years ago; contracted psychologist
- Lee's Summit: EAP; peer support program, has 15 officers
- Tonganoxie: EAP; wellness visits with psychologist; Fitness For Duty evaluation
- Merriam: Chaplain program; peer support program for 10 years; contracted psychologist
- Mission: EAP; peer support program, has three officers
- Blue Springs: EWP (Early Warning Program) that identifies stressors; counseling, in place for 8-10 years
- Raymore: EAP; Officer Resiliency Training; Pathways liaison; contracted psychologist; developing a peer support program
- Kansas City: Working to develop a peer support program; chaplain service
- Kansas City, Kansas: Peer support program, has 18 officers
- Platte City: EAP; chaplain service, lead chaplain is CIT trained

Anyone considering suicide is encouraged to go to a hospital, call 911 or call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433).