An increasing number of police officers across the country are taking their own lives. According to the National Fraternal Order of Police, so far in 2019, there have already been 124 law enforcement officers who have committed suicide.
Throughout his 33-year-career with the Houston Police Department, Tim Whitaker has lost four of his fellow officers to suicide.
“I don't think anybody really knows why it happens. There's only been 73 line of duty deaths and so we're hurting ourselves more than the bad guys are hurting us,” Whitaker said.
Whitaker believes witnessing death, violence and destruction first-hand, time and time again-- does more damage to an officer's psyche than they'd like to admit. Whitaker adds that the long hours and odd shifts, don't help either.
“Officers do not know how to deal with the stress. Sometimes our home life is not as good as it should be. And so we're out there on the streets and we're fixing everyone else’s life, but we're unable to fix our own life.
“We’re trying to get out there and just say, ‘Hey just call a peer. Just call somebody that knows what you're talking about,” Whitaker said.
Since 2013, Whitaker has lead a non-profit organization called the Houston Officers Peer Assistance. HOPA provides an anonymous, 24-7 hotline support for officers in need from their peers who can relate to what they’re going through.
HOPA has roughly 20 retired HPD officers who volunteer a listening ear and expert advice to help them cope with trauma and deal with triggering incidents.
“My generation, we were expected to set our feelings aside and go out there and go run another call. We want to believe we get desensitized but we don't. Every scene out there leaves some kind of a mark on us,” Whitaker said.
The volunteers are also trained to identify potential red flags during conversations that indicate an officer may hurt themselves.
“Our guys have been trained. They know that if there are trigger words, they're to go to the next level. We have gotten psych services involved before,” Whitaker said.
In a tweet, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said, "Suicide is a challenge for all of society but it’s especially challenging for law enforcement. While we wear vests and do a good job of dealing with physical trauma, our profession must do more to acknowledge & address emotional trauma. Proud of our HPD psych & wellness services."
For more information about HOPA, check out their Facebook page. The number to call is (832) 200-3499.