Following a wave of officer suicides this year, the New York Police Department launched a mental-health initiative in partnership with New York-Presbyterian Hospital this week.
The service is intended to provide free—and confidential—counseling and other assistance to officers who sense they might need help coping with personal or professional pressures, or often both.
24/7 Referral Line
The program, Finest Care, will also give officers access to a 24-hour telephone-based referral line, comprehensive evaluation and mental-health assessments and other services, including appointments to see and speak with psychologists and psychiatrists.
The new resource is completely independent of the department.
The service will complement several department-initiated programs launched in August after two officers killed themselves within two days. So far this year, 10 officers have taken their own lives.
Announcing the initiative at NewYork-Presbyterian on Oct. 24, First Deputy Commissioner Ben Tucker alluded to what he called an “epidemic” of suicides among police officers across the country. “And that’s no less true for our officers here in the NYPD,” he said.
According to BLUE H.E.L.P., a Massachusetts-based nonprofit that advocates for officers’ mental health, 184 officers, including 25 who were retired, had killed themselves through Oct. 23—already 15 more than committed suicide all of last year.
The NYPD typically has four or five suicides annually. Four officers took their own lives in June alone.
Encourage Reaching Out
Mr. Tucker is heading the department task force convened in June to address the crisis.
“Over the past four months we’ve moved with all deliberate speed to put in place a variety of wellness and health initiatives designed to encourage our officers to seek help and take advantage of the range of services available to them, and obviously with a view toward preventing suicides,” he said.
Among the programs are three-hour sessions for Captains and those in higher ranks that address mental-health issues and the available resources and options for officers. The department has also deployed peer-support units that embed within commands. Those units will eventually total between 400 and 600 volunteer officers and other professionals.
Mayor de Blasio said the NewYork-Presbyterian program “will save lives.”
‘A Place to Turn To’
“What NewYork-Presbyterian is doing is creating a separate, independent place that our officers can turn to,” he said. “And not just any place, a world-renowned institution that our officers can have the assurance they can turn to whenever they need.” The Mayor referred to the pressures officers face daily while on the job, as well as those they might be facing at home, as reasons they could be on the brink of crisis.
“They are there to help people in some of the toughest moments in their lives but they then share in that experience,” he said. “Even if they are the savior, they still see that pain and they deal with a lot of stress and a lot of challenges.”
He added: “If you think you should pick up that phone, you should pick up that phone. If you’re lingering by the phone wondering if you should make the call, you should absolutely make the call.”
PBA: Look to Expand
Following the department’s announcement, the Police Benevolent Association’s president, Patrick J. Lynch, while suggesting the initiative was overdue, called it “a step in the right direction.”
“We are glad that the Mayor and the NYPD have finally realized that we need help from outside the Department to address the police mental-health crisis,” he said in a statement. “We have said repeatedly that our members need no-cost access to high-quality professional mental health care, and they need to be able to seek treatment without derailing their careers.”
Mr. Lynch said that if the NewYork-Presbyterian program proved successful, the department should look to expand it to providers citywide and beyond.
“There is still much more work to be done to address this crisis. The NYPD should continue to focus its efforts on these types of programs, which address our members’ needs as both cops and human beings,” he said.
The 24/7 service can be reached by calling 646-697-2020.