New Jersey rolls out training program to reduce police suicides

New Jersey State Police cars parked on West State Street, Trenton, outside the capitol complex. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

New Jersey State Police cars parked on West State Street, Trenton, outside the capitol complex. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

New Jersey hopes a new training program will stem the rising rate of suicides by police officers.

According to state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, the unique stresses of law enforcement make cops more likely to struggle with mental health issues.

“We outfit them with protective clothing. We equip them with guns and vests,” Grewal said at a Tuesday afternoon press conference. “But for too long we’ve ignored a different threat, a threat that claims more and more lives each and every year.”

Pat Colligan, president of the New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association, said work-related trauma takes a toll on police officers over time.

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“For those who sit at home and think, ‘My cops are in a small town’ or, ‘They never pull their guns,’ that’s not what kills us,” Colligan said. “What kills us are the continued calls to horrible car accidents and CPR in a family home in front of the kids. That’s the cumulative effect, and that’s what builds up in our officers.”

According to a report from Ruderman Family Foundation, 37 law enforcement officers in New Jersey took their own lives since 2016.

In response, the state his rolling out a new training program based on one created by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

One officer in every law enforcement agency in the state will be required to oversee its department’s implementation of the new two-day training program focused on officers’ spiritual, mental, physical, and emotional health. Those officers will also serve as a point of contact for fellow officers seeking help, under a directive signed by Grewal.

Law enforcement officials also said they hope the discussion around the new program will chip away at the stigma around mental health in the police community.

“We also will call it a win each time an officer feels comfortable and confident stating these three simple words: I need help,” said Burlington County Prosecutor Scott Coffina.

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