A new law signed by Gov. Phil Murphy on Tuesday adds another layer of suicide prevention to law enforcement resources in New Jersey.

These efforts were signed by Murphy just days after a single-car crash and gun suicide by a 39-year-old police officer in Monmouth County. The officer, who lived in Aberdeen but worked in Roselle Park, shot himself in his vehicle after the wreck on Sunday. The case remains under investigation.

Each officer will go through an in-service training on suicide prevention once every five years under the same law that also now requires the reporting of law enforcement officer suicides to the state Attorney General’s Office.

The data to be submitted for each suicide case includes race, gender, veteran status and level of education of the officer, along with any known facts pertaining to the cause or method of suicide, but not name or birthdate. The state will utilize the data for suicide prevention and intervention studies.

As outlined back in November, the training curriculum will address causes, behaviors, warning signs, and risk factors associated with officer suicide.

(courtesy Blue HELP)

According to Blue HELP, a nonprofit organization that tracks and monitors law enforcement suicides, five law enforcement suicides were reported last year in New Jersey — among 38 NJ law enforcement officer suicides reported between 2016 and 2019.

The organization has said that such suicides are historically underreported.

In August 2019, state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal issued a directive creating the New Jersey Resiliency Program for Law Enforcement (NJRP-LE). Under the effort, every state, county, and municipal law enforcement agency has to designate a resiliency program officer, or RPO.

"The NJRP-LE is designed to change a culture in which officers are often reluctant to seek help for work-related stress. The program fosters an environment that encourages officers to communicate with each other and with their families," according to a written statement from Grewal's office at the time of the announcement.

In October 2019, more than 1,200 members of law enforcement, relatives of fallen officers, mental health experts, chaplains, and others attended a two-day Resiliency Summit. The summit served to provide initial training for resiliency officers, as the directive requires every law enforcement officer in the state to be trained in the NJRP-LE by the end of 2022.

The directive protects the confidentiality of communications between an officer and an RPO. Law enforcement officers will be provided a list of all RPOs throughout the state, giving them the option to speak to someone outside of their department.

The training is a two-day training with a mix of lectures and practical exercises.

Instead of “spiraling down,” officers are provided with techniques and services that help them to “spiral up” and meet day-to-day challenges while promoting a “growth mindset,” instead of a restrictive “fixed mindset."

The NJRP-LE is designed to work alongside existing programs, such as the Cop2Cop program or Employee Assistance Programs that already provide a support and referral structure for officers "in need or in crisis."

When the directive was announced, Cop2Cop Program Director Cherie Castellano said in a written statement that “resiliency officers in every community will partner to hand off to Cop2Cop for telephone-based peer support with our retired officer peer counselors and clinicians ensuring assessment and referral to our Cop2Cop provider network. In addition, we can refer our Cop2Cop callers to a Resiliency Officer from their community who can meet with them face-to-face."

Castellano said the shared goal was to preserve "our most precious resource in New Jersey-our law enforcement officers.”

In addition to state-implemented programs, there are non-profit efforts such as Mission Hope NJ, founded by career-long first responders.

The organization works "to provide support, education, and resources for NJ First Responders and their families struggling with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, vicarious trauma, depression, anxiety and other related issues."

 

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