This story is part of Policing: A “Chicago Tonight” special on the anniversary of the assassination of George Floyd.
Kimberly Marshall still remembers a call she answered almost 30 years ago. A boy was thrown out of the building window because he was not stealing candy.
“I don’t think I’ve ever gotten over it,” Marshall said. “That has stayed with me, and that does provoke these dark thoughts.”
Marshall was a Chicago police officer for 20 years, and the emotional escape from work was a challenge, he said.
“The kids you see here are the ones you have left the most,” Marshall said. “Everyone says you, you can’t describe the horror and the nightmares and the feeling of not being as useful as you can know it’s out of your hands.”
Marshall said police are one of the most stressful jobs right now.
“The way this country feels about the police, it would be a wreck every time I went to knock on someone’s door because they don’t want you,” Marshall said. “They are very upset. They are very angry. African Americans and the police have had a long and arduous relationship. “
Mental health professionals say the well-being of officers, which is already a concern for the nature of work, has declined over the past year amid the pandemic, civil unrest and growing mistrust of the police.
Some clinicians working with police officers claim that while there is still a stigma about seeking treatment, the full amount of cases suggests a desire for mental health resources and the need for more.
Carrie Steiner was a Chicago police officer for 13 years. After leaving the department, Steiner opened the First Well Responders Wellness Center.
“Are there a lot of officers who are really questioning now, staying in this field or, you know, trying to think about when I can quit smoking? Or when it’s the first time I can retire,” Steiner said. since I do as much as in the last year “.
Her organization serves first aid and her families across the state. He said some agents are hesitant to ask for help.
“I think culturally, too, when you’re an official, you don’t want other people to think you’re weak or that you can’t manage the job or that you can’t introduce yourself or handle a scene,” Steiner said.
So far this year, at least 57 current and retired officers in the United States have died by suicide, according to Blue HELP, a nonprofit organization that tracks police suicides in the country. In 2020, 172 died by suicide. In 2019, this figure reached 238.
Two Chicago police officers committed suicide in March. According to a 2017 report from the Justice Department that resulted in the police consent decree, the CPD suicide rate was 60% higher than the national average among law enforcement.
Robert Sobo warns that officers’ suicides are difficult to track, but says the rate is still too high. Sobo is the director of CPD’s advisory division, Employee Assistance Program.
“Suicide is still a big problem, and in the United States alone, suicide is up about 28% nationally,” Sobo said. “But suicide awareness and suicide prevention are the complete programs to deal with stress, depression, and trauma, before an officer gets to the point of being suicidal.”
EAP provides mental health services to current and former officers and their families. The program has 13 clinicians, six drug and alcohol counselors and about 200 peer-to-peer support members.
Sobo says the CPD program is the most robust in the country.
“Given that 13 of us, and all of the PCTs in general, have a huge load of cases, if we had more, we would only be serving more people because the demand for services is there,” he said. Sobo.
After the recent suicides in the department, CPD brought in Alexa James as a senior welfare advisor. James is the CEO of the National Alliance on Mental Health Chicago.
“Our answer is this: if we only focus on suicides, we are missing tens of thousands of people who work here every day and are in pain, they are tired and they don’t feel seen or heard,” James said.
He works with Sobo to build a culture of well-being in the department, from correcting a trauma to preventing it.
“What do we do to eliminate triggers, challenges, and really examine policies that indirectly or directly harm officers,” James said.
This includes training, briefings on trauma, and considering how working conditions affect the well-being of officers, such as canceled vacation days and mandatory overtime officers who faced last summer.
After retiring from police, Marshall went to school to become a mental health professional. While in power, he said he saw the mental health needs of officers and a need in the communities he served.
Marshall encourages officers and other people treating mental illness to seek help.
“Everything is treatable,” Marshall said. “This is my favorite line. Everything is negotiable. “
Learn more about this story
Chicago police officers and their families can reach the PAE by calling 312-743-0378. For the rest, the national suicide prevention line is 1-800-273-8255.
Note: This story will be updated with video.