Police kill themselves, too – Insight on police suicide

By Steve Bringe
Founder, Stand Up To Stigma

A very sad and troubling article came across my feed concerning police officer suicides in New York City.

NYPD suicide problem grows as eighth officer takes own life this year

I’d enjoy sharing an insight on the great need for safe, protected mental health services in the law enforcement community. Trust me. This is good stuff. It’s useful information gleaned from a firsthand perspective.

When I was developing CIT (Crisis Intervention Training) for the Albuquerque Police Department, part of what was created was internal mental health services for the officers AND their families. This is an excellent service tbat carries an amount of unrecognized cultural complexity.

Having given numerous CIT presentations for APD and having been tasked with recruiting peer presenters, I’ve had the unique opportunity to speak openly with police officers on the crucial conversation of mental health in a safe, honest, and vulnerable setting. And, having been invited to participate in the full 40 hours of CIT training, I’ve gained direct empathetic understanding of the police perspective in crisis situations. This is because APD officers shared their law enforcement stories with me and our peer presenters.


Observation: Being a cop is a rough and high-stress job and cops aren’t proactive in seeking out mental health treatment.


The issue – as I see it – is there’s a self-stigmatizing critique in the law enforcement culture that to seek mental health services is a weakness and shameful. By making the services internal to APD the hope is more officers will get immediate help with the support of their colleagues.

As a peer who has bipolar and severe PTSD, as well as a history of trying to kill myself, if I didn’t have the excellent services I have now, suicide as a mental health treatment solution would continue to be part of my life. It’s no different for cops who experience horror on the job.

As said, I was also invited to take the full 40 hours of CIT, and not only the two hours I developed. The insight I’ve shared – redacting specific officer stories which were shared on a personal level – speaks from my understanding of the training and ingrained responsibilities officers hold in mental health crisis situations. As their job description requires, cops are placed in environments most folks can’t appreciate as unavoidably emotionally rattling. This happens at crime scenes that aren’t pretty or heart warming. As a layperson, some of the stories officers shared with me are terrifying.

These unimaginable on-the-job life events and the psychologically damaging consequences don’t clock out at the end of the shift. The jolting effects follow the cop home and are there when the cop wakes up the next day and the next day and all the next days to come.


The inherent mental
health-impacting job stress in law enforcement can be crippling and exhausting day after day, and suicide is one natural conclusion to untreated PTSD.


Purposely, I saved the PTSD acronym for the last.

Here’s the insight on the law enforcement culture I want people to realize and understand. My feeling is suicide shouldn’t be exasperated by cultural competency. The law enforcement community is incredibly loyal and tightly insular, and the law enforcement community contends with its own internally propogated stigmatization. Police officers both need and deserve specific and special services for their mental health wellness. And, seeking out these critical services must be accepted, supported, and destigmatized to be effective.


The Albuquerquue Police Department is providing these services. Let’s see what happens with the culturally internal stigma about getting mental health services.


I applaud with both hands and both feet – as well as the hands and feet of the (occasional) make believe people in my head – the forward-thinking and active-solution of the Albuquerque Police Department. I applaud the department’s dedication to the officers’ and the responsibility shown in dispensing the permeating self-sigmatization in law enforcement culture. And, in talking with officers on the street whom I trained, these services are being openly utilized. Score.

As a closing comment, I’ve spoken primarily of the mental health needs of law enforcement officers as being consequential of their employment. It’s equally important to address bipolar, schizophrenia, DID, depression, and any other mental health issue with the same considerations as everyone else on the planet. These mental health needs are also part of APD’s in house services. Just so you know. Score.

By the by, I aced the CIT exam. 100% is my score. Bonus.

Kindly reprinted from Steve’s Thoughtcrimes.

The Lourdes Mobile Outreach Team: Police, Mental Health Specialists, and . . . Peers?

Here is a promising article about the Lourdes Mobile Outreach Team.

When reading this promising article, I can’t avoid noticing a GLARING omission to this field unit:

WHERE ARE THE PROFESSIONAL PEERS?

Peers are infinitely more qualified connecting with other peers in crisis.

Stand Up To Stigma Podcast: The uncomfortable truth about MHRAC and APD

Please tune-in to this incredibly difficult and exhausting SUTS Podcast episode where I detail why I no longer trust the Albuquerque Police Department to know how to deescalate peers in crisis.

I did have the professional courtesy to inform my former APD colleagues when we posted the podcast.

Sharing my story with the love and support of my friends and family is my first step to reempowerment after silencing myself for months. I’m proud of this episode.


Stand Up To Stigma is built upon the strength and the gift of peers talking about their uncomfortable truths.

As soon as there are no more uncomfortable truths, there is no need for Stand Up To Stigma.


Sharing my story with the love and support of my friends and family is my first step to reempowerment after silencing myself for months. I’m proud of this episode.

A response to the Topeka Police Department’s “Premise Alert” program

This week an article was posted to the Topeka Capital-Journal website concerning a program the Topeka Police Department has requesting citizens with behavioral health issues to voluntarily enroll in “Premise Alert.” The goal of Premise Alert is so responding officers will know ahead of time that there is an individual in potential mental health crisis, allowing officers to “make more informed decisions” because they know they are encountering a peer.

The goal is honorable. Safe, positive encounters between peers and police is what all of us want. However, I’m not pleased with programs like Premise Alert because I feel officers should be trained to deal with unique crisis situations and NOT an assumed predetermined threat. Education. I’ll say it again and again.

Following is my response to the article.

—–

Topeka police encourage those with behavioral health issues to enroll in Premise Alert program
http://cjonline.com/news/local/2017-04-02/topeka-police-encourage-those-behavioral-health-issues-enroll-premise-alert

—–

I am president of DBSA Albuquerque (Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance based in Chicago, Illinois) and sit on the Mental Health Response Advisory Committee, the DOJ mandated committee of community stakeholders who volunteer their time to help the Albuquerque Police Department develop better skills in engaging peers in crisis.

Our chapter collaborates closely with APD, including the 40 hour Crisis Intervention Training that was once a voluntary additional training and is now required of all APD officers. Peer involvement in creating those solutions that will protect both peers and police in crisis situations is key to successful, positive outcomes.

Many times, the topic of voluntary peer enrollment in a program such as this has been brought up at behavioral health meetings, and every time the concept meets with nearly instantaneous resistance to outright moral outage from peers. As one peer from our focus groups said last year, “Do they expect me to volunteer for a Tag & Release program?”

As an individual managing the symptoms of bipolar, anxiety, and PTSD, my reaction to this concept is also more than hesitant. The reason I share this is because often foreknowledge of a person’s behavioral health history can unduly affect a first responder’s attitude and readiness in a crisis situation. It may even have the exact opposite effect, something I can attest to personally. In one encounter with APD, officers focused entirely on asking if I was dangerous and not what help I needed.

Beyond the practical considerations of crisis response, there is a larger, more far-reaching concern among peers that has to do with the archiving and use of any database generated from an enrollment program. Let me share one example.

Say we have a peer who deals with alcohol misuse and schizophrenia (a condition the DSM V defines as co-occurring). Alcohol misuse exacerbates this individual’s schizoid symptoms to where police involvement is regularly required. However, when not misusing alcohol, this individual functions well and does not generate the type of crisis intervention needs.

Let’s say this individual voluntarily enrolls, under the auspices of “protecting all involved.” The idea doesn’t seem too horrible. Who doesn’t want to be safe?

Now, let’s consider this scenario:

A neighbor calls to report this individual’s yard is messy and the individual isn’t being cooperative in cleaning his yard. In fact, there was a heated argument over this to where the neighbor calls for the police.

The police arrive, already aware this individual has a prior co-occurring crisis history with police. There was an argument and police are dispatched “ready” for a situation where the individual.MIGHT be in crisis.

There are a few truths to consider:

1.) This individual is not symptomatic and in crisis.

2.) Neighbors get into yelling matches from time to time.

3.) They have been neighbors for 20 years.

4.) This individual experienced several crisis calls with police, and his neighbor witnessed this.

5.) The individual is 12 years sober.

6.) This happened to a friend of mine.

Granted, there was no enrollment program, and the foreknowledge provided police is from the neighbor of 20 years. But there was no crisis and responding officers treated my friend as if he was in the throes of co-occurring crisis. My friend is 12 years sober and only was a safety issue when drinking.

This illustrates striking concerns. How far does the enrollment record go back? How do you get yourself off the list once enrolled? What kind of information is collected and is this information guaranteed confidential? After all, the police are not medical providers and aren’t bound by mandates like HIPAA.

There are so many possible and real scenarios that all ultimately speak to one thing:

People with behavioral health issues are more than their symptoms and do enjoy significant recovery.

I’m not a sum total of my bipolar, anxiety, and PTSD symptoms. I don’t say “I’m bipolar.” If I’m trotting out self-proclaimed identities I’d go with I’m a father, I’m a son, I’m a geologist, I’m a boyfriend, I’m a peer advocate, and I’m a really great left defender on my soccer team. Enrollment in a program like this places symptoms I manage with exercise, medication, therapy, peer support groups, and personal responsibility above who I truly am. It’s too easy to mistake having foreknowledge as being forewarned.

The real, sustainable solution is education. Officer preparation doesn’t come from a list, it comes from training officers with the skills necessary to help peers help themselves to make good decisions. A single peer’s crises are not the same thing every time. Every potential crisis situation involves a unique individual under unique circumstances. Education is the key to being well-prepared. Crisis intervention training allows for officer safety, peer safety, and deescalation through a spirit of collaboration rather than predestined community peacekeeping.

Reprinted with kind permission from Steve’s Thoughtcrimes.
Originally published April 5, 2017.

Not everyone appreciates metaphors of uncomfortable truth

It’s not a secret held close to the peers’ collective chest that peers sometimes run into criminal trouble when experiencing the severe symptoms of a full-on, full-force, and full-blown crisis situation. At these magical times, law enforcement are often called to assist a peer. And some of these magical times, peers are transported to inpatient service rather than criminal incarceration. Score. Bonus score.

Things get a little iffy at this point. Let’s say a peer is in crisis with some regularity. And let’s say the peer pings on the law enforcement radar with some regularity. There is an idea that these peers require being on a “special list” so responding officers are aware this peer is a frequent flyer. In addition, MOUs (Memorandum Of Understanding) are attempted so psych providers can share HIPAA protected information with law enforcement. This is requested in the hopes of better serving peers.

The thing about it is not every peer wants their mental health information at the ready for responding officers, and peers really aren’t thrilled about providers sharing their information with law enforcement. Want proof? Check out this article on the Topeka Police Department’s “Premise Alert” program.

Constitutional academic arguments aside, the problem with a program like the Premise Alert is it’s very easy for foreknowledge to become forewarning. Not every crisis situation is like the last. Every crisis is entirely unique as is every peer is unique. As is every person is unique. Foreknowledge or forewarning? Is it any surprise that the volunteer Premise Alert has no volunteers?

When I brought up the Premise Alert at an MHRAC meeting in 2016, the idea was met with nods of agreement, that the Premise Alert made good sense and peers should support such an initiative in Albuquerque. So, yeah, I didn’t bring it up as a suggestion. I brought it up as what the Albuquerque Police Department should be avoiding. The idea is de-escalation, that’s the training I developed for APD’s Crisis Intervention Training. Having peers on a list easily referenced by responding law enforcement is a threat to peer safety, not a benefit to peer safety. The Premise Alert works entirely contrary to everything I was training APD to understand about the peer experience.

There was still confusion amongst the MHRAC Muggles. What is Steve saying? Won’t peers feel safer if officers knew they had mental health issues? Wouldn’t peers want the police to have this information ahead of time? No matter which vector I attempted in explanation, my reasoning was met with skepticism or outright hostility. So I decided to come at it with some Word Art.


The Premise Alert is the same as asking peers to volunteer for a Tag & Release program.


An almost immediate motion was made by an MHRAC member. Immediate.


I object to the term Tag & Release and make a motion to strike this terminology from these proceedings.


The motion was quickly seconded and was voted upon by Muggles who apparently took issue with my metaphor. Score. Bonus score. They found the terminology offensive. Finally. I was able to get them to understand the peer experience and what the idea of law enforcement keeping referenced information on prior contacts on hand when responding to a mental health crisis. My response . . .


I’m pleased I found a way to connect with the committee in such a way where the moral outrage peers feel about a Premise Alert is mirrored by your moral outrage at such a harsh analogy. First amendment guarantees outweigh a motion, second, and vote by this committee. So, if I feel using “Tag & Release” is a necessary insertion into our proceedings, that’s what I will share. I’m not here to make you comfortable. I’m here to have you understand from sharing the peer experience. And what I have to share is often an uncomfortable truth.


Here is my full response shared with the Topeka Capital-Journal:

A response to the Topeka Police Department’s “Premise Alert” program.

Tag & Release. Foreknowledge versus Forewarning. Uncomfortable truths. You’re welcome.

“The difference between you and them is you respect the law.”

When I first started having troubles with bipolar and was frequenting the hospital with some regularity, my parents bought a house in Albuquerque so they had someplace to live if I needed them to help me for an extended length of time. My parents are my heroes.

I check on my Dad’s house a couple times each week. Mostly, it’s to make sure the weeds are murdered – I like vegecide as much as arborcide – as well as making sure the roof isn’t leaking. Yes, in Albuquerque, we get stuff falling from the skies that damages roofs. Usually it’s frozen water. Frozen water falling from the skies. This global warming thing . . . somebody got it wrong. Somebody got it very, very wrong.

Where was I? Right, I know. Once, on checking upon my Dad’s house, I found the front door had been kicked in. The intruder tried to bolt with the TV in the living room (the only TV in the house) but my Dad’s got it wedged into this walled shelf above the fireplace, so how I found it was slightly askew. I’m telling you where to find the TV, that there is only one, and you’ll never get it if you break in to my Dad’s place. So there.

I did a quick assessment of the damage and because it seemed significant enough structurally I made a call to the police, so I could file a report in case Dad needed one. Interested neighbors are universally famous for congregating at times like this. Perhaps it’s with the hopes of potato salad like on the July 4th block party, perhaps it’s with the hopes that their home doesn’t also fall prey to a frustrated bandit. Did I mention he didn’t get the TV? Classic.

It turns out that one of Dad’s neighbors is a retired Albuquerque Police Department lieutenant. He shared that there were contractors working on the house next door and this meant there were also subcontractors. That my Dad’s place was vacant – there’s really only the TV to steal, by the by, and you can’t get it out – did not pass unnoticed, and the Lt. also shared that usually with this type of break-in the perp is a subcontractor. Contractors, do background checks on your subcontractors, please. I guess. I’m itching to turn this tale into a parable.

Oh, wait, I got it! Parable, start your engines! So I shared with the Lt. that I was active in training APD in understanding peers in crisis and ways that officers can help peers, and themselves, in deescalating a crisis call. This was not long after the James Boyd thing and APD was very sensitive to any discussion of mental health and law enforcement. We spoke for some time about what I was doing with APD, and the Lt. offered this.


“The difference between you and them is you respect the law.”


I couldn’t hold back laughing. Openly laughing. Not about a perceived shortcoming of the Lt. I wasn’t laughing at him. I was laughing at me and the stupid stuff I’ve done when in crisis. My arborcide story is legend and deserves its own article. For now, I’ll say I’ve done some incredibly weird stuff when in crisis, stories I enjoy sharing with APD in their training. It’s helpful to see me when I am well because the only time APD has seen me at my abode is when I’m not well. It stands to reason. We don’t call APD when we’re not in crisis. Unless we’re lonely. I guess. Hi, it’s Steve. How are you? Just calling to see how everyone’s doing. So, fighting a lot of crime today?

Off track again. My reply after the hearty laughter was very self-aware and self-assessing. With the Lt. I shared . . .


“Dude, you’ve never been to my house when I’m crisis. I really don’t have the understanding, awareness, or capacity to ‘respect the law’ when I’m at my worst.”


The Lt. looked somewhat perplexed. I expanded upon my statement. “Lt., you only see peers when they are at their worst. You don’t see those times when they’re not in crisis because there’s no need for your services when we’re doing well. Crisis situations are infrequent for many of us. When we first started talking today would you have pegged me for someone who had police response for psychosis? Probably not. We walk amongst, sir, we walk amongst unnoticed because we aren’t always sick. And that’s when you see us. When we’re sick.”

He took it in, chewed it about, and shook his head in understanding. No words were necessary. He got it. And that felt so freakin’ great to make that connection.

This is a story I’ve shared with APD during Crisis Intervention Training. And it’s a story I’ve used in helping to develop CIU training. If there’s a moral to the story, law enforcement needs to understand that we aren’t our symptoms and we aren’t always symptomatic. Many officers have approached me after trainings and when they recognize me in the street. I always ask if what I’ve shared with them has helped them in the field. Many say they’ve had more successful outcomes, many say they now feel safer in mental health crisis situations. The most warm-fuzzy satisfying feedback I’ve gotten is just this:


“Steve, you’ve helped put on a human face on things for me.”


Score. I don’t know if we’re allowed to hug a police officer on duty. It might be assault on an officer. These are uncertain times with the DOJ hanging about. What is certain is peers sharing their stories with officers is making things more successful and safer for peers and police.


This is the cornerstone of the SUTS education program

Peer & Police Safety


What a lovely parable. Brothers Grimm, you can just clean between my toes until they are clean to my satisfaction. I’ve totally smoked your ham on this one. Take your spankin’ and scoot on back to Saxony. Score.