2008 POLICE SUICIDE NUMBERS
POLICE SUICIDE – A COMPREHENSIVE STUDY
OF 2008 NATIONAL DATA
Published in the International Journal of Emergency Mental Health
of Emergency Mental Health (O'Hara AF, Violanti JM. 2009; 11(1): 17-23)
Andrew F. O'Hara, Badge of Life
John Violanti, PhD.
A source of considerable confusion in the law enforcement
community has been the question of “how many” police suicides occur in a given calendar year. Attempts to
fill this gap have given rise to a variety of speculative, often wildly exaggerated figures, none based on verifiable research
or gathered in an organized, useful manner. Attempts to obtain a verifiable sampling of this data or even the most
rudimentary validation have been futile, however.
Such figures have then been translated into wildly
varying “rates” and “profiles” that, because they lack any basis in fact, do little to help and much
to impede the meaningful development of programs that can address the problems of police stress, trauma, posttraumatic stress,
suicide and the promotion of improved general health in the law enforcement community.
The National Surveillance of Police Suicide Study
(NSOPS) was the first of its kind to study actual suicides on a daily basis across all 50 states for an entire year.
This exhaustive study took place from January 1, 2008 until December 31, 2008, inclusive. The
information gathered in the study goes beyond mere numbers and encompasses a range of other serious questions surrounding
each suicide, including:
Time on the job
Means of suicide
Circumstances leading to the suicide
Emotional state of the officer prior to the event
Known trauma prior to the event
Statements by departments and medical examiners.
We established that 141 police suicides occurred during 2008. This figure
is, not surprisingly, in concert with CDC/NOMS data, current research, and comparisons with groups such as the United
Highlights that you will find included in the study include:
The NSOPS study includes state-by-state figures and information on each, the reasons
potential suicides will continue to elude prevention/awareness programs, and the need for a re-focusing of efforts to self
care rather than on the surveillance of others, such as occurs in QPR programs.
Given the present stage of research on police stress, it is likely that inaccuracies
will continue to exist in the reporting of police suicide, including underreporting, misclassification, the lack of updated
nationwide data, and difficulty associated with collecting data. NSOPS has demonstrated that such data can be collected with
reasonable accuracy, however. Those with far greater monetary and staffing resources
are encouraged to pursue this research further.
A copy of this study can be obtained from the International Journal of Emergency Mental Health.
The NSOPS study was repeated in 2009 in order to verify the results and methodology used.
All variables, adjustments and error factors were applied in the same manner.
The results were remarkably similar, particularly in light of the increase of incoming data.
A slight increase was noted in the number of police suicides, from 141 in 2008 to 143 in 2009.
In terms of other results, it appears that officers in the age category 40 – 44
years were at a higher risk for suicide, with 27% of all suicides found in this age group. This was a slight shift
“upwards” from the previous year (age group 35 – 39). There was a similar shift up in the years of service,
from the group 10 – 14 during 2008 to 20 years and above. Officers with
less than ten years on the job continued to share a disproportionate portion of the suicides (17 percent).
Overall, the two years of NSOPS disproved the school of thought that maintains it is impossible to determine, with
any degree of certainty, the number of police suicides taking place in the United States. NSOPS did not, by any means,
provide an "exact" answer. Law enforcement agencies continue, in particular, to frustrate research and program development
by refusing to acknowledge the causes of police suicides.
A continuation of the NSOPS study has begun for 2012. For more information,
go to 2012 Police Suicide Study (NSOPS).