Last Friday night, Kansas City and Liberty Missouri Police Officers responded to a missing/endangered person call near I-35 and Cookingham Drive in an area bordering Liberty and Kansas City. The call quickly turned into a call that officers and first responders fear most— the endangered person was one of their own, a ten-year department veteran who made the tormented and gut-wrenching decision to attempt to take his own life.
That single call for service for those responding officers will forever be etched in their memories as “that one call.” Imagine the gut-knot and the chill that runs up the spine when the game changes in an instant, after the radio crackles, that they were now searching for a member of the family.
The officer was transported to an area hospital in critical condition after sustaining a self- inflicted gunshot wound to the head. The officer’s family decided to donate his organs, and he remained on life support over the weekend awaiting organ donor recipients. He passed away on Monday.
That makes this News Dog stop and think for a moment. This brave first responder will continue to serve in the lives of those who receive his organs through life-saving transplants. For the family to make this unbelievably selfless decision in light of the circumstances gives one a little insight into the mindset of first responders.
With everything first responders go through on a daily basis, this thin blue and red line supporting news pooch has the utmost appreciation and respect for the jobs they do in the community, often under, shall we say, less than desirable circumstances.
This event brings a sad tragedy to light an ever-growing issue that bears addressing: the mental health of first responders across the country. According to Blue Help LLC, an organization that honors the service of Law Enforcement Officers who died by suicide, verified officer suicides are on the rise. In 2018, officer suicides in the United States topped 160 (almost one suicide every two days). Less than six weeks into 2019, twenty-six officer suicides have been reported. If that trend continues, the 2019 numbers are on pace to top 200, spotlighting the need for a stronger mental health safety net for Police and Fire personnel across the country.
Both KCFD and KCPD have internal support programs for those who may be at risk. Additionally, the Police Department’s Chaplain Program has recently been overhauled and now offers support for officers on a 24/7 basis following traumatic crime scene events such as the one last Friday evening.
Officers, firefighters and EMS personnel often have to process grim scenes or continue to fight a fire while co-workers are severely injured or killed on the job without the opportunity to “take a minute” because they had a job to do. Those responders couldn’t pause, couldn’t step back for a minute and couldn’t walk away.
This News-Dog will continue to keep the Kansas City, MO Police Department in our thoughts and prayers during this difficult time. We would also be remiss if we did not include the National Suicide Prevention hotline as a resource for anyone who is considering suicide. The number is 1-877-273 TALK (8255) or online at suicidepreventionlifeline.org.