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Chicago has a cop suicide problem and no solution, just yet

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Chicago has a cop suicide problem and no solution, just yet

WATCH | The Chicago Police Department has recorded suicide rates 60 percent higher than the national average.

Last year was the deadliest year in Chicago in 19 years with 762 murders, according to data from the Chicago Police Department. 

But residents aren't the only victims of the violence. According to an investigation by the Department of Justice, Chicago officers are committing suicide at an alarming rate.

"There were times where I truly thought I’d be better off dead than alive," said Officer Brian Warner, who was diagnosed with PTSD after fatally shooting a man in 2011.

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Warner tears up as he recounts the nights following the February 2011 incident that ended in the fatal shooting.

This would mean that CPD's officer suicide rate is more than 60% higher than the national average.
Department of Justice investigation

In January, the Department of Justice released the findings from an investigation into the Chicago Police Department. Hidden between the findings of police brutality and excessive force was this:

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Most police officers never actually fire their weapon. A 2000 study in New York City found that only 5 percent of officers had ever had to do so. For those that do, what follows can be traumatic.

The report found that according to the police union, Fraternal Order of Police in Chicago, there were 29.4 suicides per 100,000 from 2013 to 2015.

The national average for police officers (when you take all individual studies into account) is 18.1, according to Radford University researchers.

For the record, the Chicago Police Department reports that the rate is 22.7 suicides per 100,000 department members.

Warner says he contemplated suicide after he was involved in a headline-making "critical incident."

A man he and his partner had apprehended and placed in the car held up a gun and shot Warner as Warner was driving. Warner's instinct was to shoot the man. The man later died.

Six years after that event, Warner has PTSD.


Immediately after the incident, he went to the Employee Assistance Program, but he felt the help they gave him wasn't enough.


"A mandatory one-time session and two days off to debrief. And then they say, 'OK, you can go back to work.' I don’t think that’s adequate," Warner said.


In lieu of therapy, "I self-medicated," Warner says. "I drank enough to fall asleep. Each night I’d go to work and through the motions."

It wasn't until two years of sleepless nights after the incident that Warner was diagnosed with PTSD, upon a visit to the doctor.

"My doctors and I put together a whole protocol on how I could return back to work safely," said Warner. "We presented that to the city and the city chose to put me on disability instead of implementing the program."


Warner says he thinks the city didn't want to have to implement a robust program for others as well, which is exactly what he wanted to happen.

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Warner says he couldn't bring himself to commit suicide because he had "two beautiful reasons" not to do so: his two kids.

The Chicago Police Department is aware it needs to do a better job of helping officers who deal with traumatic events on the job.

In a statement emailed to Circa, the Chicago Police Department wouldn't address what happened to Warner, but it did say that "CPD is currently working to strengthen and de-stigmatize these services in order to improve the overall mental health of our officers."

The department also said it's working with experts to review support services available to officers.

"Is police culture killing our officers?"

That's the question retired Chicago police officer Ron Rufo asks in his new book, "Police Suicide." In talking to cops and psychologists, he found that the answer might be "yes."

“Management needs to get on the same page that it’s OK to seek help," Rufo said. "That you’re not going to get your FOID card taken away. Not gonna lose your job.”


A FOID card is what gives officers the right to carry a gun.

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Rufo says the macho culture that reigns in most police departments could dissuade officers from asking for help. "We're used to being the heroes," he says.

Rufo was a peer team support leader while he was in the force, which means he was dealing with officers who had undergone traumatic experiences while on the job all the time.

“I was responding to many calls about police suicide," said Rufo. "And it seemed that no one was really caring about the subject. Management was not admitting that there was a problem. Supervisors were not talking about the problem."


If Warner called the shots, he would have it so that debriefings were mandatory for everyone, so that officers wouldn't have to go out of their way to ask for help.

“We need to make it the department’s responsibility, not the officers',” he said.


The Chicago Police Department currently has three clinicians serving 12,500 employees. The Los Angeles Police Department has 12 for about 10,000.

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Warner, who was placed on disability, is hoping to use his experience to help other cops in similar situations. He was the chairman of Chicago Police Survivors until recently.

I cannot be the only one out here feeling this way. There have to be others, and we have to stop ignoring the fact that there are.
Brian Warner

The Badge of Life is a national organization that promotes mental wellness and suicide prevention among officers.

Chicago Police Survivors matches officers with others who've had similar traumatic experiences.

If you are thinking about harming yourself or attempting suicide, call the toll-free, 24-hour hotline of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) to be connected to a trained counselor at a suicide crisis center nearest you.

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