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The "In Harm’s Way" Story

There is a brutal truth in law enforcement...that an officer is more likely to be a victim of suicide than a homicide. More officers die from suicide than from line-of-duty deaths, yet little is being done to address this highly preventable loss.

I have experienced this first hand, the hard way. On the morning of March 8, 1995, my husband, FBI Special Agent Bruce Schulz, took his own life. This vital, strong, proud, capable man of 45 years could no longer take the pain. He died in his boxer shorts, unable to even get dressed. He was my rock. He served his country since he was 17, first as a Marine in Viet Nam, then as a Tallahassee Police Officer for 8 years, and finally as an FBI Agent working in Foreign Counter Intelligence. Yet this vibrant man no longer felt fit to live. Out of this horrific event, I made a promise...that he must not have died in vain.

It is a well-known fact that law enforcement officers do not hesitate to protect their fellow officers when they are in danger – even if it puts their own lives at risk. But the stigma and taboo attached to psychological and mental health issues within the law enforcement community prevent officers from taking action. Bruce’s supervisor and fellow agents knew that something was wrong, and yet they did nothing. They did not know what to do. There was nowhere to turn for help, and I didn’t know what to do because of the undercover world in which we lived.

As I came to grips with this incredible loss, a commitment was made to do everything possible to erase the stigma of reaching out for help, to educate law enforcement on the importance of stress management, to change agency protocol, policies and procedures, to provide training for America’s Finest. Suicide is the last step in an ongoing inner struggle that can be prevented with knowledge and the willingness to help. Steps can be taken to intervene and provide assistance to the officer before suicide becomes the answer. Unfortunately, law enforcement has been turning a blind eye to its own officers, allowing them to suffer in silence, not deliberately, but through an unwillingness to admit there is an issue. Suicide is preventable...the race is between education and tragedy.

Through a partnership developed among the Florida Regional Community Policing Institute at St. Petersburg College; the United States Attorney’s Office, Middle District of Florida; and the Survivors of Law Enforcement Suicide (SOLES), we began to offer a series of training seminars, IN HARM’S WAY: Tactics for Psychological Survival in Law Enforcement (IHW). The first was held in 2001 on the campus of the University of Tampa. Experts in the field, including Dr. John Violanti, author of Police Suicide: Epidemic in Blue I and II; Dell Hackett, Executive Director of the Law Enforcement Wellness Association; and Dr. Jim Reese, FBI Behavioral Science Unit Assistant Chief (ret.), were among the outstanding speakers. The enthusiasm and interest were overwhelming. Law enforcement officers were thirsting for this knowledge. Col. Dr. David Litts (USAF), Special Advisor to the U.S. Surgeon General, talked about the Air Force suicide prevention model. Their motto, “It takes courage to ask for help. " Be Courageous!” became our mantra.

Due to the success of this seminar, but postponed because of the trauma of 9-11, we offered a second seminar in 2005, followed by a regional seminar in southwest Florida in 2006. In the meantime, Florida’s Governor initiated a Suicide Prevention Task Force under the auspices of the Office of Drug Control. Director Jim McDonough was a speaker at our 2005 IHW seminar, and his staff attended the entire 3 days. He realized our contention that law enforcement suicide is a hush-hush topic about which little is known and much needs to be done. He took the message back to the Governor, Jeb Bush, who then funded an IHW Statewide Conference for all Florida’s law enforcement in 2007, as well as the development of the IHW Toolkit, complete with a resource CD and “Rolling Back-Up” CD with roll-call and in-service videos. These toolkits were given free to every law enforcement agency in the state of Florida due to the generosity and commitment to law enforcement of our Governor. Since then, we have assisted the Kansas and Missouri U.S. Attorneys’ Offices in offering IHW seminars providing speakers and access to all the IHW materials.

And now, the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance is funding a national IN HARM’S WAY initiative in 2009. We have brought together a host of superb trainers and speakers – talented, experienced, and dedicated professionals with a wealth of information to share – for this national training initiative – three, regional 2-day training seminars and eight 1-day training-of-trainers workshops. In addition, information and support programs are available to officers and agencies on the Florida RCPI web page. These resources have been developed to be localized/personalized and used to present academy and in-service Law Enforcement Suicide Prevention Awareness Training, as well as to develop viable programs within each agency. Through this training and the resource materials provided in the IHW Toolkit, agencies can help solve these problems that plague our colleagues, and officers can resume their careers and their lives before it is too late. It is time to take a stand and make a commitment to aid an officer in need – AID LIFE.

We are committed. We hope you are, too. Together, we can assure that the training and materials are in place to help our officers. We can erase the stigma by talking about it. We can instill the mantra: “It takes courage to ask for help. Be Courageous!”

Donna G. Schulz
Law Enforcement Coordination Manager
U.S. Attorney’s Office, Middle District of Florida

IN HARM’S WAY is a federally funded program that offers training seminars and workshops nationally on suicide prevention.  This webpage offers a plethora of resources, reproducible materials, articles with varying viewpoints, statistics and opinions from which readers can form their own conclusions on the magnitude of the law enforcement suicide problem, its causes and the best approaches to finding a solution.  Statistics are skewed due to the fact that agencies are not required to catalog and report suicide cases and, therefore, frequently agencies do not record suicides as such due to a variety of reasons.  Those law enforcement suicide statistics that appear to be most valid are found in the work of John M. Violanti, Ph.D., Police Suicide: Epidemic in Blue, and Andy O’Hara, Badge of Life, Tracking Police Suicides 2008, 2009.

 

 


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In Harm's Way: Law Enforcement Suicide Prevention

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