The Weight of the Badge and Police Officer Suicides
BALTIMORE (WBFF) - For the first time in policing, departments have started to openly discuss the weight of the badge and the impact it has on the mental health of officers.
Operation Crime and Justice traveled to Chicago, where three police officers committed suicide in three months. After investigating the Chicago Police Department (CPD), the Department of Justice found officers there committed suicide at a rate 60 percent higher than the national average.
As a child, Scott Tracz dreamt of policing Chicago streets.
“He wanted to fix the bad city,” his cousin Ark Maciaszek said to Lead Investigative Reporter Joy Lepola in an interview.
In 2015, Tracz became a Chicago cop at the age of 30. Along with his dream job, Maciaszek says Tracz had a beautiful girlfriend and a new condo.
But a year and a half after he became an officer, Tracz’s life came to a violent end. He wasn’t killed by one of the villains he dreamed of bringing to justice, but by his own hand. He killed himself outside of his girlfriend’s house. He became one of the 108 police officers nationwide, to take his life in 2016. Family members say Tracz’s policing of Chicago’s most violent neighborhoods caused him to change.
Maciaszek said he urged Tracz to seek counseling, but he refused.
“You take the trip to the psychologist and that’s the end of your police career. I cannot do that,” Tracz told his cousin, still holding on to his dream job, as it damaged his mental health.
For decades, police departments across the country have kept quiet about the mental state of their officers.
It’s an issue the Baltimore Police Department in 2016 with the establishment of an Officer Safety and Wellness Section.
BPD Director Vernon Herron said: “We owe it to our officers. They put their lives on the line every day.” The Ruderman Foundation released a report this year that shows in 2017 more police officers committed suicide than died in the line of duty. Historically, Herron says, officers didn’t seek help because of the stigma. Confidentially is also a concern among members of law enforcement.
The mental state of officers may have reached a tipping point in the United States.
In 2015, members of the “Presidential Task Force on 21st Century Policing” found: “When both work and family relations fray, the individual’s coping abilities can be stretched to the limit, resulting in alcohol abuse, domestic violence, overaggressive policing, even suicide.” In Chicago, four officers have committed suicide over the past four months. Three of the officers killed themselves in uniform and in their cruiser. Baltimore doesn’t track suicides among the members of its department.
FOX45 spoke with a BPD officer who is a recovering alcoholic. He’s been sober for since January 2018.
The officer, who FOX45 was asked not to identify, said he began to experience withdrawal symptoms within hours of starting his shift.
The officer said: “Every other call you go to, people are cursing you out. You have to deal with stressful situations, you know. People are always fighting, screaming, and yelling. That's what we deal with every single day. The alcohol was helping me deal with that.” When the officer hit rock bottom he turned to a supervisor within the BPD for help. Fourteen years ago, Herron purposely traveled forty minutes away to meet with a private counselor to keep people from finding out.
If you know an officer in need of help, you can contact Call Safe Now 206.459.3020