by Lindsay Gebhart
The statistics are shocking. Officers have an 8-fold risk of killing themselves over being killed by a perpetrator. They are 3 times as likely to commit suicide as die in car accidents.
"If we can’t keep officers alive and sane, we are going to have anarchy," said Stephanie Samuels, a therapist who works exclusively with POs in New Jersey.
Samuels decided to do something to combat the problem. Copline is a not-for-profit phone line dedicated to helping officers and their families find their way in times of crisis and uncertainty. It is manned by retired officers.
She said that when the public is in distress, they call 911.
"Someone needs to take care of (officers) too," she said. "They are 911. Who are they supposed to call?"
Samuels said she had the idea for a phone line when she started teaching at a police academy. She said that after only 20 hours of teaching at the academy, she saw a remarkable difference in the cadets.
She said those in deep undercover in rural areas are at the highest risk because they are forced to take on another persona.
"You don’t go from being happy-go-lucky to putting a gun in your mouth."
In order to create a nationwide database of services available for officers around the country, Samuals is asking police to send in any local information they have about valuable services for troubled officers in their area.
Examples of services that Samuels is looking for information for (but are in no way limited to):
- Alcoholics Anonymous
- local therapists with law enforcement experience
- support groups
They also need help fundraising. This includes volunteers to do traditional fundraising and grant writing.
"If I had $25,000, I could get this up and running in two months," she said.
The important part of the hotline is that it is manned by retired officers from all departments, corrections, sheriffs, you name it. Samuels and a couple others will travel around the country and train volunteers in groups regionally. The volunteers would have to go through a 40-hour training in a facility within driving distance of their homes. They would be required to man lines at and for a predetermined amount of time.
There are two implications for using retirees:
1) They understand the caller’s situation since they have been in the field
2) Since they are no longer on the force, they are not obligated to report what the caller is saying.
Having a peer-operated system is also beneficial to retired officers. Samuels said retired officers have a high level of mortality. By keeping retired officers in the loop they can continue to stay active doing a public service.
"They have so much knowledge and miss their jobs," Samuels said. "None of them have had uneventful lives."
Dennis Cronin, the vice president of Copline and a retired Captain from the Oldbridge (NJ) police department, said being a volunteer is further simplified because officers can work from their home phones, cell phones or even places like their union halls.
As a former officer, Cronin said it is important that officers understand that the way they are feeling is a disorder. He said that although cops are, "notorious for being macho and filing things away, the worst thing they can do is keep it inside."
For more information
Call: (800) 267-5463 ex. 8
Make sure to leave:
Name your city, state and department you retired from
Number of years you were on the job
Address and phone number where you can be reached