CHICAGO (CBS) — As the Chicago Police Department mourns another officer who took his life, a reitred CPD officer with more than 20 years on the force is speaking candidly about mental health and the high suicide rate within the department.
Retired Officer Ron Rufo fought back tears at times while talking about the problems officers face and the trouble some of them have seeking counseling.
He thinks the department needs to find a way to make them all understand it’s OK to ask for help.
“I get emotional with this,” he said.
It’s hard for retired Rufo to talk about some of the officers he counseled as a CPD peer support team member for more than two decades. All of them made a call that likely saved their lives.
“Reaching out for help and somebody to help them with their issues they may have,” Rufo said.
But what weighs on Rufo the most is the officers who don’t reach out and end up taking their lives.
“They’ve lost all hope not seeing that light at the end of the tunnel,” he said. “We have over 300 peer support team members but rarely do we get called out as much as we should, that stigma of being a tough person, being strong, and never being the weak link. Would you want to work with a partner that seeking counseling?”
Rufo even wrote the book “Police Suicide: Is Police Culture Killing Our Officers?”
“I just felt like there was that elephant in the room, nobody wanted to talk about it,” he said.
Rufo says for some officers the long hours, pressures and demands of the job combined with what they see and do on a daily basis can be too much to process.
“You got a lot of cameras on you,” he said. “You’ve got a lot more people judging you with everything that you do. It’s difficult because a lot of officers keep their emotions to themselves. They don’t share.”
And Rufo says sometimes that can lead to relationship issues and other problems, which become overwhelming. Add to that easy access to a firearm, and it can be a deadly combination.
“A lot of it may have to do with drinking as well,” he said. “Sometimes alcohol might be involved, which is a depressant, and then you have your weapon on your side. It’s so easy. It’s so quick it takes its toll right then and there.”
With five officer suicides in 2018 and another on new year’s day this year, Rufo hopes the department will step up to help those who might find themselves in similar situations.
“We need to have more classes about emotional wellness,” he said.
Until that happens, Rufo has a simple, but powerful message for all officers: “It’s OK to get help. It really is.”
Rufo also wants officers to remember they can seek that help anonymously. Currently CPD has five counselors, but a spokesperson says they plan to add five more soon. That’s in addition to members of the clergy that officers can also reach out to.
CHICAGO (CBS) — Chicago Police are mourning the loss of an officer that unexpectedly died in her squad car.
Fellow officers paid their respects while a procession took the body to the medical examiner’s office.
The officer was assigned to the female lock-up in the 5th district.
CPD says she passed out in the station parking lot before she was pronounced dead at Trinity Hospital Tuesday morning.
This is the second time tragedy has struck the Chicago Police Station’s 5th district this week. Two days ago, an officer committed suicide while sitting in his vehicle in the station’s parking lot.
CBS 2’s Jim Williams reports the 5th district is hosting a community party Tuesday night, to bring cheer to the officers after what they’ve been through this week.
Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said, “They are hurting. It’s my job, as the leader of this organization, to encourage them, support them, and give them what they need to get through difficult times like this.”
A Justice Department report found that Chicago has one of the highest rates of suicides among police officers in the country.
“I really didn’t want to live anymore,” recalled Kimberly Marshall, saying she seriously considered taking her own life.
In 1994, four years into her career as a Chicago Police Officer, Kimberly Marshall, suffering from depression, considered suicide. She received treatment and went onto 20 years on the job, along the way, helping other officers, including one friend.
“She was in her garage with her car running and actually told me she had a revolver to her head,” Marshall said. “She was going to kill herself.”
Marshall said they talked for three hours and today that friend is still alive.
The police department released a video last year, urging officers to get help for mental illness.
Johnson says in terms of services, the department is light years ahead of where it was when he became an officer 30-years-ago, in terms of offering help for mental illness, more consolers, peer support, and chaplain.
Johnson said, “If you know of someone in distress or you’re in distress yourself, you’re not alone.”
“It’s not the end of the world. There’s help and people love you and want to help you,” said Marshall.