NJ starts new program to help combat police suicides
Amid a rising tide of police suicides in New Jersey and across the nation, the state attorney general has rolled out a program that aims to give law enforcement officers the tools they need to cope with the stress of their jobs.
At a news conference at Newark police headquarters on Tuesday, Attorney General Gurbir Grewal announced a first-of-its-kind directive establishing the New Jersey Resiliency Program for Law Enforcement.
He said it will train officers to become better equipped “to handle the day-to-day pressures of their jobs."
Grewal said stress, when left unchecked, can lead to physical ailments, depression, burnout and even suicide.
“We outfit them with protective clothing, we equip them with guns and vests, but for too long we’ve ignored a different threat, a threat that claims more and more lives each and every year," he said.
The directive requires over the next two and a half years, every law enforcement officer in New Jersey will go through a two-day training program that will help them “spiral up” to meet day-to-day challenges by emphasizing officers’ positive strengths rather than weaknesses.
He said the program will teach that people are not born resilient, but rather learn to be resilient through life experiences, and will promote and encourage a “growth mindset” as opposed to a restrictive “fixed mindset.”
He said at least 167 law enforcement officers across the nation took their own lives last year.
“We’ve lost 37 officers to suicide since 2016, and we know there are so many officers that are out there attempting to cope by self-medicating," Grewal said Tuesday.
The data is from Blue HELP, a nonprofit organization that tracks law enforcement suicides, but this total is believed to be conservative because law enforcement suicides have been historically underreported.
Pat Colligan, the president of the New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association, said there were 17 PBA suicides in the Garden State last year.
Grewal noted that the directive requires that every law enforcement agency appoint at least one resiliency program officer who will be responsible for implementing the program in their department. The RPO will function as a guide to help officers get the appropriate help they need from programs and organizations already in existence, like COP2COP, a program that provides support and a referral for officers in need or in crisis.
Grewal said many officers have a fear of being seen as weak, or becoming stigmatized if they open up and ask for help, so they often say nothing and suffer in silence, sometimes with devastating consequences.
Middle Township police Chief Chris Leusner, who is also the president of the New Jersey State Chiefs of Police Association, said police officers have a challenging job.
“They see the worst of society and see terrible, terrible things while performing their duties and trying to keep us all safe,” he said.
Leusner said the program being created will be valuable.
“We need to remove the stigma for officers to ask for help and create a culture where talking about these issues in the open is the norm, and communicate to our officers that asking for help is a show of strength. I’m confident this directive will help create this culture.”