Police suicide numbers fall to a seven-year low

Some surviving families fight an uphill battle over “honor” that dampens officers’ career and an ability to obtain full benefits.

Molly High started noticing behavioral changes in her husband, Phillip, in 2018. It was shortly after one of his co-workers was killed in the line of duty.

By New Year’s 2020, Molly was so concerned with his mental health that she took out a loan to get Phillip into special PTSD treatment in Salt Lake City, Utah.

According to her, he came back as a different person, making promises to her and their son Adrian to be more present and reassuring them he’d never commit suicide.

Twenty-eight hours later, on the night of January 14, he took his life.

Molly High, widow of Officer Phillip High receiving the flag from The National Guard. Courtesy/Molly High
Molly High, widow of Officer Phillip High receiving the flag from The National Guard. Courtesy/Molly High

“He took the gun out of our home office, and within five minutes, he was dead,” said High. “He was four months from finishing his MA in counseling psychology and six weeks from retirement.”

According to High, Phillip’s four-day mental health retreat just picked away scabs, leaving the source of the wound untreated. She said she knew he needed more help, but an opening for a full 30-day retreat wasn’t available until the following week.

“I do think if I had gotten him on a plane that weekend if that night could have been avoided, he would still be here”, said the widow.

Two thousand five hundred miles away in Cleveland, Ohio, another police officer was losing his struggle with mental health as well. Officer Nick Sabo, 39, told family members he “couldn’t take it anymore. This job is just so hard.”

On September 4. 2020, he died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

“He comes home, walks into the kitchen and kills himself,” Brienne Sabo told 91㽶Ƶ.

Nicholas Sabo. Courtesy/ Brienne SaboNow, three years later, Brienne Sabo can still visualize the horror; the kitchen door, marked with a small bullet hole, is also a constant reminder.

“Five months before the night he killed himself, I had no idea our fun day and normal evening would turn into the worst night of my life. My life is forever changed”, said the widow.

Brienne Sabo feels law enforcement officers need therapy regularly and that treatment should be considered overtime or paid. That way, it makes them want to do it.

“When a fellow officer is hurt or killed. It’s like losing a family member. Police suicide needs to be acknowledged more, and the departments need to treat their death with more respect and their families better”, said Sabo.

The Cleveland Police Department gave Sabo a full honors funeral, but that’s not always the case when a law enforcement officer commits suicide.

Molly High said, at first, the Hoquiam Police Department said: “his death was not honorable.”

Phillip High honored by The National Guard at the Arlington cemetery. Courtesy/Molly High
Phillip High honored by The National Guard at the Arlington cemetery. Courtesy/Molly High

High was in a battle with the state of Washington for 33 months as they denied honoring the death.’ The Department finally conceded, acknowledging that during his three years with Ocean Shores PD and 10 years with Hoquiam PD, Officer High sustained continuous PTSD injuries, and these led to this death. The department reclassified his death as “in-the-line-of-duty.” But her fight for Phillips’ full benefits as a widow of an officer who committed suicide drags on.

“The law enforcement community refused to honor his 19 years of service, but the military had no problems honoring his military service. For that, I am grateful that he will be honored for his life of service to his country, if not his community”, said High.

91㽶Ƶ reached out to the Hoquiam Police Department for comment. The Lieutenant assigned to respond simply said, “I cannot say or comment on this matter for an ongoing case about an officer.”

“I’m not ashamed of my husband for doing what he did. I’m ashamed of his department,” said High. Phillip High was honored by the National Guard and finally put to rest at Arlington National Cemetery on September 12, 2022.

Public Safety Officer Support Act 2022

President Joe Biden signed a 2022 bill into law that extended disability and death benefits to families of officers affected by job-related post-traumatic stress and mental health disorders and who die by suicide as a result of exposure of traumatic events while on duty.

The is part of a broader effort to recognize the emotional impacts of traumatic events on first responders nationwide.

People familiar with the original draft of this bill tell 91㽶Ƶ it was initially broader, covering all kinds of law enforcement deaths. However, the bill passed has criteria that families must meet to get full benefits.

“Widows shouldn’t have to fight when they’re already fighting to stay afloat, keep their kids afloat and try to deal with all the grief,” said Brienne Sabo.

Molly High agreed that the public safety law could still be improved. “There are at least 200 pending cases, only three families got benefits.”

FIRST H.E.L.P. (formerly known as Blue H.E.L.P.) is a nonprofit organization that has been collecting law enforcement suicide information since 2016. In its, it shows 129 officer suicides through November, of which 92 are law enforcement, 21 are firefighters, 7 corrections officers, 6 EMS and 3 Dispatchers. Of the 92 law enforcement officers, 81.6% were white. The 2023 number is on pace to be the lowest in seven years and almost half the number of officer-related suicides in 2019.

First HELP data

President and Co-founder of FIRST H.E.L.P. Karen Solomon said the unrest surrounding the death of Michael Brown at the hands of police in Ferguson, Missouri got her frustrated on how people felt about police officers. Solomon, whose husband is in the law enforcement field, started writing a book on all the good things officers do.

“While I was doing that, I realized how much trauma police officers were experiencing. And I heard all these anecdotal information about law enforcement suicide, and nobody was really tracking it,” said Solomon.

Solomon, along with two police officers, cofounded the non-profit FIRST H.E.L.P. She runs a website to inform the public about police suicides and provide help to survivors’ families.

Solomon had her own challenges in the past. She told the Wash she herself had attempted suicide three times.

“There’s no winning situation that you can ever project. You can try to get them help, but that backfires sometimes. We’ve seen officers who, their wife gets them help, and they said, ‘Oh my God, you ruined my life,’” said Solomon.

Solomon told 91㽶Ƶ the spike in officer suicides in 2019 was unusual but there are typically around 180 to 185 yearly. 2023 numbers are trending in the right direction.

“This year we’re just hitting 100. So we’re hoping that it’s truly that low, and we’re hoping that it’s because of all these programs and interventions and everything that have been put into place,” said Solomon.

Dr. Ellen Kirschman is a psychologist who has been counseling police officers and their families for three decades.

“In all the years I have worked with first responders, not only have I seen people recover, I’ve seen them grow stronger, wiser, and happier than they were before–whatever caused the trauma,” wrote Dr. Kirschman in an email to 91㽶Ƶ.“First responders see things that no one should have to see, do things that no one should have to do, and go places no one should have to go. They console the inconsolable, encounter the unthinkable, and are exposed to some of the cruelest, most tragic moments life has to offer. At times, many of them need psychological help but are stymied in their efforts by stigma, the fear of looking weak, and a lack of culturally competent clinicians who understand first responders and the culture in which they work.”

FIRST H.E.L.P. offers resources and helps prepares the families for the trauma.

Families of fallen officers get together.

“Sometimes it’s that one moment in time, you can redirect them, and it passes if it’s a spontaneous suicide,” said Solomon. “We are hoping that we are preparing the officers to understand how to handle stress, how to handle trauma, how to recognize their own stressors and to prepare themselves.”

One of the things FIRST H.E.L.P. recommends is that families with a member with PTSD get a list of local resources or national resources so they can call them ahead of time.


In the Washington D.C. area, theArlington County Police Department has its own .

“It started probably about eight years ago when a K-9 handler, Officer Greg Johnson, committed suicide. The then Deputy Chief got on board with the wellness thing started a peer support unit,” said Sergeant Greg Sirinek of the Office of Wellness and Safety, ACPD.

Sergeant Sirinek said there are public safety wellness coordinators who provide short-term therapy care. If a person is trying to harm themselves, they are usually placed on restricted duty status but can return to work after getting help.

“If somebody is involuntarily committed into a hospital in Virginia, and I would guess probably every other state in the country, you can no longer possess a firearm. You can no longer be a police officer if you don’t possess a firearm, “said Sirinek.

As the widow of suicide, Molly High wants first responders to be required to see a counselor on a weekly basis. She wants more programs that will help the first responders to open up without any fear. Just like the wellness programs Arlington County Police Department has in place.

“Monthly is not enough.It has to be mandatory. If everybody has to go to the counselor then there’s no stigma,” said High.

Sanjana Feroz

Sanjana has worked as a international multimedia journalist at Voice of America. She has covered press freedom, refugee and women issues while working at VOA. Currently she is working at The National Desk owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group. She produces the interview segment of the night show inviting guests to talk about current international and natiaonal issues.

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