Suicides among police officers higher than line of duty deaths

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. - In the last two years, there have been more suicides among police officers than line of duty deaths.

That's according to studies done by two non-profits, Blue H.E.L.P. and the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.

Blue H.E.L.P.'s website says the organization's mission is to reduce mental health stigma through education and to bring awareness to suicide.

National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund has long tracked officer fatalities.

The Memorial Fund announced in its 2019 Preliminary End-of-Year Law Enforcement Fatalities Report that 128 officers died in the line of duty over the past year, representing an 18 percent decrease over the 157 officers who died in the line of duty in 2018.

The data from Blue H.E.L.P. says there were 172 suicides in 2018 and 228 suicides in 2019. Their website says the numbers indicate an increase in reporting to the organization, not necessarily an increase in suicides.

It is a troubling trend for officers in uniform. Mental health is now a priority for several departments in Central Indiana.

The Boone County Sheriff's Office implemented an officer wellness policy a few years ago after Deputy Jacob Pickett was shot and killed.

Deputy Taylor Nielsen praised the program. She knows what these men and women are going through before they decide to take their own life.

Before joining the sheriff's office, she was an officer for the Lebanon Police Department. A call in 2016 changed her life. It was on a double homicide in Zionsville and it spiraled her into a deep depression.

"I was in a very dark hole and it was a hole I was not sure I was going to be able to come out of and that is what left me to the idea of suicide," Nielsen said. "Some of them gave me that answer of you will get over it in a couple months, just keep going. It was hard because it made me feel like an inadequate officer."

Nielsen decided the only answer was to end the struggle on her own and attempted to take her own life. Her fellow officers found her in a field and she survived.

"Own who you are.," she said. "Own your worth and regardless of someone telling you."

The Southport Police Department also created an employee assistance program. It offers free counseling to their officers. The service made available after Lt. Aaron Allan was shot and killed in the line of duty in 2017.

Officer John Benton said five officers past away in 19 months. Lt. Allan was shot and killed and the others died of cancer or natural causes.

Those officers are named Joseph Baughn, Phillip Parmelee, Rich Parnell and Sergeant Detective Jason Swanson.

"Coming from an era where we were expected to kind of blow things off, we are trying to move into an area or a time where mental health is a priority," said Benton.

Benton said Chief Tom Vaughn went through the National FBI Academy and recently returned from Quantico. The program stressed the importance of providing mental health services to first responders.

Chief Vaughn wants to make sure his officers get the help they need and deserve.

"It's a way for us to reach out to them and talk to them and see what their mindset is," said Benton.

These departments stress the importance of reaching out for help. It is a lesson Nielsen is now sharing with others who wear the badge.

"It is a very hard battle to get there but it can be done and once you taste the beauty of it, it makes the fight totally worth it," she said.

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