NYPD steps up efforts to combat officer suicide crisis

NEW YORK (WABC) -- The NYPD has been hard hit by an epidemic of suicides in 2019 with 10 police officers taking their own lives, eight of them over the summer.

It is an alarming statistic, with police more likely to die by suicide than in the line of duty.

The NYPD, the nation's largest police department, is confronting the crisis with its new suicide prevention program.

With every case, there has been new heartbreak.

"I feel like I failed," said Matt Hickey, who wonders if he could have saved a life the way someone saved his, almost 20 years ago.

The active narcotics officer landed on desk duty with an injury.

He started drinking and confronted demons he never knew he had, until one night he found himself on the couch with a gun in his lap and his dog by his side.

"Started nudging me like she wanted to be petted," said Hickey. "I just looked at her again, I said who's gonna take care of you? Put the gun down and I petted her and she got me through thtat night. And she got me through a few nights."

It was a family friend who noticed his depression and convinced him to tell the NYPD, which got him the help he couldn't bring himself to seek.

"It probably is challenging for people to ask for help," said NYPD First Deputy Commissioner Ben Tucker. "I'm probably one of those people. I mean you just don't. I can handle it because I'm a cop."

Tucker started as a beat cop in the early 1970s. Now it's become his job to tend to the well-being of 35,000 officers faced with an almost impossible job - loaded with constant stress, endless anger and a wave of disrespect.

"Many of us do cope, over time and even though the things you see are the most heinous, the most ugly, the most traumatic," said Tucker. "But because you're cops, you try to suck it up. I suppose some of us sometimes can't."

Tucker has spearheaded a dozen new initiatives to try to combat the crisis, including a new anonymous crisis hotline.

On the day it opened, six officers called in by noon.

But perhaps his biggest problem is the age-old stigma that an officer in need will lose his or her gun and will be forever marked as somehow damaged.

It turns out that wasn't Matt Hickey's experience.

"Don't believe the BS some people put out there," he said. "Oh if you ask for help it's gonna jam you up, your career is over. Don't believe that."

They did take away his gun and shield, but he got them back just four months later and worked another decade as a detective before retiring with full pay.

These days he is newly married, healthy, and making it his mission to tell other cops in need that there is help, there is life.

"We want to help you. I want to help you," said Hickey. "I'm not doing this for fame, fortune, not getting paid for this. I'm doing this because I really care. I know that empty, painful feeling and I don't want anybody else to go through it."

The stigma is very real, and the NYPD has been facing it for decades. But the actual numbers tell a different story.

In 2018, 1,231 cops were referred for mental health assistance. 109 were placed on restricted duty and lost a firearm.

But of them, 80% wound up back on full duty with their guns.

There is lots of help out there. All anyone has to do is ask.

Mayor Bill de Blasio provided reminders of important phone numbers following the most recent officer suicide in October.

If you are a member of the NYPD in crisis or know someone who is, you can text "Blue" to 741741 for help.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals. The number to call is 1-800-273-8255.

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