Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology

, Volume 34, Issue 1, pp 55–66 | Cite as

Suicide Prevention in U.S. Law Enforcement Agencies: a National Survey of Current Practices

  • Rajeev RamchandEmail author
  • Jessica Saunders
  • Karen Chan Osilla
  • Patricia Ebener
  • Virginia Kotzias
  • Elizabeth Thornton
  • Lucy Strang
  • Meagan Cahill


Increasing attention is being paid to suicide among law enforcement officers, and how the agencies that employ these officers could prevent such deaths. This study presents the results of a national survey of U.S. law enforcement agencies’ strategies for preventing officer suicide. We invited 177 agencies from across the United States to be interviewed, and 110 agreed to participate in qualitative interviews. Agencies were grouped into one of four categories based on the services they offered. Agencies offered minimal (a municipal employee assistance program), basic (mental health, critical incident response procedures, and training), proactive (in-house mental health care, embedded chaplains, substance misuse programs, peer support, screening, or health and wellness programs), and integrated services (integration of services into day-to-day operations). The results indicate that many U.S. law enforcement agencies are engaged in efforts to promote officer wellness and prevent suicide. Officers’ perceptions of confidentiality may inhibit the use of in-house or contracted mental health services, while a weak or inconclusive evidence-base raises questions about common approaches like peer support or critical incident stress debriefing.


Suicide Law enforcement Police Environmental scan 



We would like to thank Zachary Predmore and Quentin Stroud for their assistance in coding interview notes.


National Institute of Justice (Award No. 2015-IJ-CX-K004). The opinions, findings, conclusions and recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Justice.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Supplementary material

11896_2018_9269_MOESM1_ESM.docx (24 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 24.4 kb)


  1. Acosta JD, Becker A, Cerully JL, Fisher MP, Martin LT, Vardavas R…, Schell T (2014) Mental health stigma in the military. RAND Corporation, Santa MonicaCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Amaranto E, Steinberg J, Castellano C, Mitchell R (2003) Police stress interventions. Brief Treat Crisis Interv 3:47–53CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Axelrod EM (2017) Employee Assistance Programs: Counseling and psychological services for law enforcement officers. In: Mitchell CL, Dorian EH (eds) Police Psychology and Its Growing Impact on Modern Law Enforcement. IGI Global, HersheyGoogle Scholar
  4. Azrael D, Miller M (2016) Reducing suicide without affecting underlying mental health: theoretical underpinnings and a review of the evidence base linking the availability of lehtal means and suicide. In: O'Connor R, Pirkis J (eds) The international handbook of suicide prevention, Second edn. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  5. Bernert RA, Kim JS, Iwata NG, Perlis ML (2015) Sleep disturbances as an evidence-based suicide risk factor. Curr Psychiatry Rep 17(3):554CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bohl-Pernod NK, Clark DW (2017) Peer Support in Public Safety Organizations. In: Mitchell CL, Dorian EH (eds) Police Psychology and Its Growing Impact on Modern Law Enforcement. IGI Global, HersheyGoogle Scholar
  7. Brucia E, Cordova MJ, Ruzek JI (2017) Critical Incident Interventions: Crisis Response and Debriefing. In: Mitchell CL, Dorian EH (eds) Police Psychology and Its Growing Impact on Modern Law Enforcement. IGI Global, HersheyGoogle Scholar
  8. Canetto SS, Sakinofsky I (1998) The gender paradox in suicide. Suicide Life Threat Behav 28(1):1–23Google Scholar
  9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. (2017) Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS) [Online] Retrieved October 6, 2017, from
  10. Chapin M, Brannen SJ, Singer MI, Walker M (2008) Training police leadership to recognize and address operational stress. Police Q 11(3):338–352CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Clark AE (2005) Situational analysis: grounded theory after the postmodern turn. Sage Publications, Inc., Thousand OaksCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Curtin SC, Warner M, Hedegaard H (2016) Increase in suicide in the United States, 1999-2014. NCHS Data Brief 241:1–8Google Scholar
  13. Fear NT, Seddon R, Jones N, Greenberg N, Wessley D (2012) Does anonymity increase the reporting of mental health symptoms? BMC Public Health 17(12):797CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Fekedulegn D, Burchfiel CM, Charles LE, Hartley TA, Andrew ME, Violanti JM (2016) Shift work and sleep quality among urban police officers: the BCOPS study. J Occup Environ Med 58(3):e66–e71CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Hepner KA, Roth CP, Sloss EM, Paddock SM, Iyiewuare PO, Timmer MJ, Pincus HA (2017) Quality of care for PTSD and depression in the military health system. RAND Corporation, Santa Monica, CACrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. IACP (International Association of Chiefs of Police) (2014) IACP National Symposium on Law Enforcement Officer Suicide and Mental Health: Breaking the Silence on Law Enforcement Suicides. Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  17. Ilgen MA, McCarthy JF, Ignacio RV, Bohnert AS, Valenstein M, Blow FC, Katz IR (2012) Psychopathology, Iraq and Afghanistan service, and suicide among veterans health administration patients. J Consult Clin Psychol 80(3):323–330CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Kelly J, Hoban JE (2017) Health and Welness Programming: The Added Contribution of an Ethical Mindset. In: Mitchell CL, Dorian EH (eds) Police Psychology and Its Growing Impact on Modern Law Enforcement. IGI Global, HersheyGoogle Scholar
  19. Knox KL (2008) Epidemiology of the relationship between traumatic experience and suicidal behaviors. PTSD. Res Q 19(4):1–8Google Scholar
  20. Loo R (2003) A meta-analysis of police suicide rates: findings and issues. Suicide Life Threat Behav 33(3):313–325CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Lubin G, Werbeloff N, Halperin D, Shmushkevitch M, Weiser M, Knobler HY (2010) Decrease in suicide rates after a change of policy reducing access to firearms in adolescents: a naturalistic epidemiological study. Suicide Life Threat Behav 40(5):421–424. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Marzuk PM, Nock MK, Leon AC, Portera L, Tardiff K (2002) Suicide among new York City police officers, 1977-1996. Am J Psychiatry 159(12):2069–2071CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. McCarthy, J. F., Bossarte, R. M., Katz, I. R., Thompson, C., Kemp, J., Hannemann, C. M.,. .. Schoenbaum, M. (2015). Predictive modeling and concentration of the risk of suicide: implications for preventive interventions in the US Department of Veterans Affairs. Am J Public Health, 105(9): 1935–1942CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. McCutcheon JL (2017) Emerging Ethnical Issues in Police and Public Safety Psychology. In: Mitchell CL, Dorian EH (eds) Police Psychology and Its Growing Impact on Modern Law Enforcement. IGI Global, HersheyGoogle Scholar
  25. McGlynn EA, Asch SM, Adams J, Keesey J, Hicks J, DeCristofaro A, Kerr EA (2003) The quality of health care delivered to adults in the United States. N Engl J Med 348(26):2635–2645CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. McIntosh WL, Spies E, Stone DM, Lokey CN, Trudeau AR, Bartholow B (2016) Suicide rates by occupational group - 17 states, 2012. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 65(25):641–645CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Nanavaty. (Undated). Officer Suicide: Law Enforcement’s Kryptonite: Bulletproofing your Agency and Officers from Self-Destruction through the use of a Development and Wellness Program, FBI Law Enforcement BulletinGoogle Scholar
  28. National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention. (Undated). National Strategy for Suicide Prevention. Retrieved November 16, 2017, from
  29. Patterson GT, Chung IW, Swan PW (2014) Stress management interventions for police officers and recruits: a meta-analysis. J Exp Criminol 10(4):487–513CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Ramchand R, Kelly TF (2016) Can access to data prevent Army suicides? Identifying optimal response strategies for Army leaders. RAND Corporation, Santa Monica, CACrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Ramchand, R. N., Acosta, J., Burns, R. M., Jaycox, L., and Pernin, C. G. (2011). The war within: preventing suicide in the U.S. military. RAND Corporation, Santa Monica, CAGoogle Scholar
  32. Ramchand R, Ayer L, Fisher G, Osilla KC, Barnes-Proby D, Wertheimer S (2015) Suicide postvention in the Department of Defense: evidence, policies and procedures, and perspectives of loss survivors. RAND Corporation, Santa MonicaGoogle Scholar
  33. Ramchand R, Ahluwalia SC, Xenakis L, Apaydin E, Raaen L, Grimm G (2017) A systematic review of peer-supported interventions for health promotion and disease prevention. Prev Med 101:156–170CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Reaves B (2011) Census of state and local law enforcement agencies, 2008. Bureau of Justice Statistics, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  35. Reaves B (2015) Local police departments, 2013: personnel, policies, and practices. Bureau of Justice Statistics, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  36. Roberts NP, Kitchiner NJ, Kenardy J, Bisson JI (2010) Early psychological interventions to treat acute traumatic stress symptoms. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 3:CD007944Google Scholar
  37. Rose, S., Bisson, J., Churchill, R., and Wessely, S. (2002). Psychological debriefing for preventing post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Cochrane Database Syst Rev, 2:CD000560Google Scholar
  38. Stephen J, Walsh G (2011) Census of jail facilities, 2006. Bureau of Justice Statistics, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  39. Tanielian, T., Farris, C., Epley, C., Farmer, C. M., Robinson, E., Engel, C. C.,. .. Jaycox, L. H. (2014). Ready to serve: community-based provider capacity to deliver culturally competent, quality mental health care to veterans and their families. RAND Corporation, Santa Monica, CAGoogle Scholar
  40. Ussery WJ, Waters JA (2006) COP-2-COP hotlines: programs to address the needs of first responders and their families. Brief Treat Crisis Interv 6:66–78CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Violanti JM, Robinson CF, Shen R (2013) Law enforcement suicide: a national analysis. Int J Emerg Ment Health 15(4):289–297Google Scholar
  42. Wei Q, Gevonden M, Shalev A (2016) Prevention of post-traumatic stress disorder after trauma: current evdience and future directions. Curr Psychiatry Rep 18:20CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Weiss, D. S., Brunet, A., Best, S. R., Metzler, T. J., Liberman, A., Pole, N.,. .. Marmar, C. R. (2010). Frequency and severity approaches to indexing exposure to trauma: the critical incident history questionnaire for police officers. J Trauma Stress, 23(6): 734–743CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Society for Police and Criminal Psychology 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.RAND CorporationArlingtonUSA
  2. 2.RAND CorporationSanta MonicaUSA
  3. 3.RAND Gulf States Policy InstituteNew OrleansUSA
  4. 4.RAND Europe, Westbrook CenterCambridgeUK

Personalised recommendations