Every 17 to 21 hours, a police officer in the United States commits suicide. That breaks down to 43 suicides a month, and at least 400 per year, according to the National Police Suicide Foundation.
Last week, the DeWitt Police Department dealt with its first suicide when a 16-year veteran ended his life Feb. 12 with a self-inflicted gunshot wound in the agency's parking lot. He was found in his car, dressed in plain clothes, just before the start of his 3 p.m. shift. He was 38 years old.
"He was an excellent officer," Chief Eugene Conway said. "He was never controversial, and never had any history of complaints."
The entire staff was stunned when they heard the news of their fellow officer, Conway said, whose name will not be released.
The number one reason police officers in the US kill themselves involves relationship issues, said Bob Douglas, executive director of NPSF. They usually have three different stresses in their job -- stress on the street (which frequently consists of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD), minor stresses that accumulate on a daily basis (named Cumulative Career Trauma Stress, or CCTS) and the stress that comes from over personalizing situations.
Basic occupational signs of behavior that could lead to suicide include negative emotional contact with the public where they tend to overreact; loss of productivity (not making car stops or arrests; sitting for hours in their patrol cars) and increased absenteeism.
"Most police love to work the street," Douglas said. "They're not ones to want to stay home or take excessive sick leave. If you see that happen, then there is an issue."
Other symptoms and signs can exist including physical exhaustion, increased alcohol intake, acting distant with loved ones, the refusal to partake in family social events and verbal or physical abuse.