A Special Editorial by J. R. de Szigethy
In figures now in for the year 2020, for the first time in 4 years, the number of Police Officers across America who died by their own hand has decreased, down a significant 40 percent. Partial credit for this decline is given to a national coalition of non-profit organizations, leaders in the First Responder Wellness movement, members of America’s Medical community, and current and retired members of the Law Enforcement and Military community who joined forces to combat this deadly trend. The National Police Defense Foundation has actively supported two such programs; Cop2Cop, based in New Jersey, and Operation: Thumbs Up, based in New York.
Both programs were initiated at the close of the last Century, in response to the growing numbers of U. S. Police Officers who were succumbing to suicide. In 2000, the Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care Department, in conjunction with the law enforcement community in New Jersey, created the COP2COP program. Key figures were Rutgers University professionals Cherie Castellano, Dr. Judith A. Waters, and William J. Ussery. These pioneers recognized the growing power of the Internet and Social Media to reach a target audience, in this case, troubled Police Officers. Through their website, any local Cop can reach anonymous and professional counseling, 24/7/365 via telephone, email, or Chat. This early model that saved the lives of many members of the law enforcement community has been the model for which similar programs have been established nationwide. That website is at: https://njcop2cop.com
Operation: Thumbs Up was also formed in 2000 by this reporter and the Reverend Betty Neal, Executive Director of the non-profit Ministers of Harlem organization. Neal was also a Chaplain of the New York City Fire Department and Police Department. During that year there was an unprecedented spike in suicides by members of the NYPD. This outreach initiative was endorsed by the National Police Defense Foundation and the Detective’s Endowment Association, the Union that represents Detectives of the NYPD. At the launch in Harlem in September of that year, one Associate of both attended whose presence would make a lasting impression, then and many years later: NYPD Detective Steven McDonald.
In 1986, a young Officer McDonald was rendered a quadriplegic when he was shot 3 times by a 15-year-old Harlem youth. McDonald responded in 2 ways; first, he publicly forgave his intended assassin and established his own organization, “Breaking the Cycle,” an outreach program for young people, many of whom grew up without a father. Secondly, McDonald continued his work as a Cop from his wheelchair. In doing so, he sent a message to all Police Officers across America, but particularly to those who were troubled; when such Cops compared their own problems with that which McDonald endured every day, their problems paled in comparison.
| Over 20,000 Police Officers from across America attended Detective McDonald’s funeral at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in 2017.
Reverend Betty Neal passed away in 2018.
In October 2019, when the suicide rate among law enforcement was rising nationwide, Operation: Thumbs Up was re-launched as a website.
| The site features the now-iconic photograph of Detective McDonald, Reverend Neal, and Joe Occhipinti at the original launch.
Both men were nationally known for inspiring members of the law enforcement community by the example each set with their own response to unforeseen Adversity.
Like COP2COP, this simple website utilizes the Internet and Social Media to help troubled First Responders identify the programs, non-profit organizations, individual Leaders in this movement, and others who can best assist them in their journey towards Wellness. Each link leads to the discovery of others in this national coalition that is growing with the passage of every year. Many of these choices are free and confidential. All a First Responder at risk needs to do is to pick up their telephone or cell phone, instead of their service revolver, to solve their problems. The statistics from the year 2020 are evidence that many across America are now doing just that.
These results are the combined efforts of like-minded individuals and their organizations nationwide who have formed a cohesive coalition to save the lives of First Responders. Among them:
- Dr. Anastasia Pytal, First Responders Resilience Center. https://helpingfirstresponders.com/
- Dr. Sally Spencer-Thomas, President, United Suicide Survivors International. https://unitesurvivors.org
- Dr. Julie Cerel, Director, Suicide Prevention & Exposure Lab at the University of Kentucky. https://uknow.uky.edu/
- Dr. Christine Moutier, Chief Medical Officer at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. https://annenberg.usc.edu/research/aii/aii-board-members/dr-christine-moutier
- Dr. Jeff Thompson is a Detective of the NYPD and Adjunct Research Scientist at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, where he conducts research on suicide prevention and Wellness issues for the law enforcement community. https://sps.columbia.edu/speaker/jeff-thompson-phd
- Dr. Carlos Vazquez, Adjunct Professor in Psychology at Pepperdine University. Like Detective Steven McDonald, the Professor recognized the link between male juveniles who commit serious crimes and those who grow up without fathers. The Professor’s upcoming book, “Life Without Daddy,” will address this sociological phenomenon. https://insidethebadge.org/
- Dr. Paul Sylvestre, a former narcotics Detective who is now the Professor of the Criminal Justice Department at Johnson & Wales University.
- Dr. Thomas E. Coghlan, a former NYPD Detective who is currently a Clinical Psychologist with the U. S. Department of Homeland Security. Dr. Coghlan also runs Blue Line Psychological Services.
- Dr. Jeffrey Garbelman, a Specialist in the treatment of U. S. Military Veterans who have acquired job-related ailments. https://wpapsychology.com
- Dr. David Black, a Psychologist who founded Cordico, a California-based organization offering corporations expert training programs in the Wellness industry. https://www.cordico.com/
- Dr. Stephanie Conn, a former Police Officer who transitioned into a Psychologist, who offers her unique experiences from both professions to those First Responders in need. https://firstresponderpsychology.com/
- Dr. Robert L. Perkins is a California-based Psycho-Physiologist, a Professional who explores the relationship between the mind and the body. Dr. Perkins also serves as a Police Chaplain.
- Dr. Peter Britton, a Psychologist with the Suicide Prevention Department of the U. S. Veterans Administration.
- Dr. Jill Harkavy Friedman, Vice-President of Research at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. https://afsp.org/bio/jill-harkavy-friedman-ph-d
- Professor Richard Rossman, Instructor of a comprehensive mental health curriculum for Police Officers at the Collin College Law Enforcement Academy in McKinney, Texas. https://www.collin.edu/department/lawenforcement/index.html
- Andrea Iger Duarte of the Connecticut Department of Mental Health & Addiction Services. https://portal.ct.gov/dmhas
- Karen Solomon, Founder of the non-profit Blue H.E.L.P organization, and co-Chair of the Data and Research Task Force of the IACP/DOJ National Consortium on Preventing Law Enforcement Suicide. https://bluehelp.org
- Colleen Creighton, CEO, American Association of Suicidology.https://suicidology.org
- Larry Stokes, MBA, RN, Suicide Prevention Coordinator at the U. S. Department of Veterans Affairs in San Antonio, Texas.
- End Officer Suicide, a program for Cops in Ohio. https://www.facebook.com/hashtag/endofficersuicide
- International Association of Chiefs of Police Mental Wellness Program https://www.theiacp.org
- Lines for Life, an Oregon-based program. Https://www.linesforlife.org
- Military One Source, a Mental Health Resources website for Military Families. https://www.militaryonesource.mil/health-wellness
- National Suicide Prevention Hotline. https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
- The Center for Psychological Health, Seattle, Washington: https://www.centerpsychhealth.com
- The Columbia Lighthouse Project at the Research Foundation for Mental Hygiene, Inc. https://cssrs.columbia.edu/
- John Feal, Founder, FealGood Foundation, which advocates for the Wellness of victims of 9/11. https://fealgoodfoundation.com/
- Karen Sullivan, President, KickStart Your Edge. This former Police Chief uses motivational tactics similar to those of the U. S. Military to achieve the positive results her clients seek. https://kickstartyourleadership.com/
- Tony Salvatore is a suicide prevention professional with the Montgomery County Emergency Service authority in Norristown, Pennsylvania. http://www.mces.org/
- Detective Joseph Imperatrice, Founder, Blue Lives Matter-NYC. https://bluelivesmatternyc.org/
- Amy Morgan, Founder, Academy Hour, based in Oklahoma, which offers professional Wellness counseling. https://www.academyhour.com/
- Brandielee Baker, Founder of the non-profit Code 9 Project. The Motto of this organization is: “You Are Not Alone!” https://thecode9project.org/
- Dennis Gillan, Executive Director, Half a Sorrow Foundation. Gillan turned familial experience with suicide into a life’s journey to educate Americans on suicide prevention. https://halfasorrow.org/
- Kelly Preston, Director of Behind the Badge, a website devoted to America’s First Responders. https://behindthebadge.com/
- Police Chief Neil H. Gang, developer of the “Asher Model,” a suicide prevention method named after Police Officer Asher Rosinsky. https://www.calibrepress.com/2019/06/the-asher-model/
- Andrew Jones is a former Marine who returned from Iraq to face physical and mental wounds that nearly cost him his life. Fighting back, Jones today is a motivational speaker on the subjects he has life experience in. https://ajimpacts.com/
J. R. de Szigethy can be reached at email@example.com