Veteran officer criticizes mayor, superintendent for their handling of police suicides; ‘Officers are defeated and depressed,’ he says
by BRIAN NADIG
A 27-year police veteran is criticizing Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Police Superintendent David Brown their handling of police suicides.
Three Chicago officers have committed suicide in 2021, including two deaths during the first week of March, and there reportedly were six police suicides over an eight-month period in 2018-19. In 2017 a federal report stated that Chicago officers have a suicide rate 60 percent higher than the national average.
“I must ask you, boss, and you, Madame Mayor, how many roll calls have you attended to tell your officers thank you? I hold you both accountable for this officer’s death as neither of you or other big bosses have come to tell us good job.
“You know the job is more than difficult. A simple word of thanks is invaluable,” sergeant Rick Nigro wrote in a recent e-mail to Lightfoot and Brown. Nigro, a Northwest Side resident, was referring to a March 1 suicide in which an officer shot himself inside a district station.
Nigro said that neither Lightfoot nor Brown have responded directly to him about his e-mail. He added that he is not worried about possible repercussions for publicly calling out his bosses because continued silence on this issue won’t help anyone on the force.
“I see it. I hear it. Officers are defeated and depressed more than the department will ever acknowledge,” he wrote.
“A lot of that is we do feel under appreciated, Nigro said in an interview.
Officers are under pressure everyday, and “we don’t have the luxury of making a mistake,” Nigro said. He added that while a doctor may face civil penalties if a patient dies due to a mistake, an officer is looking at the “possibility of prison” for a mistake in which there were only “split seconds” to make a decision.
Retired Chicago sergeant William Jaconetti, who once worked with Nigro in the 17th (Albany Park) Police District, recalled how he and Nigro would give their phone numbers to officers under their command and tell them, “Call anytime.”
“Talking to Rick, I told him, ‘I don’t know how many officers we can save, but even one is enough,’” Jaconetti said. Many officers are afraid to seek help because they worry about their badge or gun being taken away if they admit any type of emotional distress, he said.
The past year has been extremely difficult for officers due the pandemic and civil unrest, resulting in 12-hour shifts and the cancellation of days off, according to Nigro and Jaconetti. Like parents everywhere, many officers also dealt with the added pressure of their children being home instead of at school, Jaconetti said.
Whether in the media or a new law being enacted, the police appear to be taking much of the blame for “everything wrong in this country,” Nigro said.
Jaconetii said that if he were still an officer, he would recommend “a ride-along” to anyone who doubted the wide range of challenges facing officers while on patrol. “We wear 50 hats every single day because every situation is different,” he said.
Officers also are deeply impacted by the death and destruction which they sometimes come across on the job, Nigro said. “I’ve seen things I wish I never saw,” he said.
Since 2000, the Chicago Police Department has offered a peer support/counseling program designed to help reduce the stress which officers and their families are facing.
In a recent Facebook post, one police veteran suggested that the Chicago Police Department look at implementing mandatory counseling for all officers.
Both Lightfoot and Brown have issued statements in response to the recent suicides.
“Officer wellness must be at the forefront of everything CPD does to serve, protect and reform. That is why we are bringing on renowned mental health advocate Alexa James and (the National Alliance on Mental Illness Chicago) to support and implement a comprehensive officer wellness strategy,” Brown tweeted.
“But no matter what we determine in the long run, all of our officers must know they are not alone. Licensed therapists are available to those who need them. If you need immediate assistance call 311 or 911,” Lightfoot tweeted.