Paula Friedrich / WBEZ
In September 2017, Chicago policewoman Regine Perpignan was hospitalized for depression, family members said.
Perpignan was a 26-year-old veteran of the department. She was 54 years old, two girls and a granddaughter.
Her brother and sister-in-law said that Perpignan had received advice from her department and was taken off the street while she was asking for help.
Perpignan's sister-in-law, Rochelle Perpignan, said that Regine had resumed police activities by the end of 2017. Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi did not want to confirm the schedule.
"They put it back to work too fast," said his brother, Roland Perpignan. "Someone who is suffering from mental disorders, and you know that he's not doing well, should not go back to work … and get a gun."
In September 2018, in the car park of Calumet district police station, in the extreme south of the country, before she started her day's work, Perpignan committed suicide, according to the doctor's office. Forensic Cook County. She used her service revolver.
"To think how much she had to suffer to get there," said Roland Perpignan. "You know that you have to suffer a lot and suffer a lot [think that’s the only way out]. "
Perpignan was one of five police officers in Chicago at least to commit suicide since last July. What's more, she was one of three officers to do it while she was on duty or at the police station, which is extremely rare, experts say.
The police department is unable to provide historical figures on the suicides of officers, said Guglielmi, the spokesman for the police. However, the US Department of Justice found that between 2013 and 2015, the suicide rate associated with CPD was 60% higher than the national average for law enforcement officers.
These figures encourage police, police and mental health experts to take action. They said that suicides are a sign of deeper problems with the mental health and well-being of the Chicago police.
The US Department of Justice and other experts believe that the resolution of these issues is also critical to the success of police reform in the city and to improving relations between the police and members of the police. community.
Police officials said they were taking big steps to solve the problem, but former police and some mental health professionals are wondering if the city is doing enough and if it is focused on the good problems.
"The only way to listen … is to go out"
Last year, Chicago Police Sgt. Shawn Kennedy has been invited to join a working group focused on the well-being of officers.
Kennedy was part of a group that was traveling to each police district to encourage officers to seek help if they had emotional difficulties.
"It was the first time we proactively went out and talked to every district and every unit," Kennedy said. "The only way to listen to the officers is to go where they work and talk with them, and that's what we did."
Kennedy said that he hoped initially to have no officer suicides that year.
By the end of 2018, five Chicago police officers had died in their hands.
And what really set him apart was this: Three of the police officers committed suicide while on duty or in police property.
"Most departments, including Chicago, every year, you have any number of officers who will commit suicide, but this normally happens outside of work," Kennedy said. "In almost 29 years, I do not remember the last time an officer had committed suicide on duty."
Kennedy became a senior officer of the department's Employee Assistance Program in October 2018. He noticed that he had noticed a big change in the number of agents looking for help and that He was not sure that it was right to blame the job of keeping the order of the high number of agents. suicides.
"I do not think it's a sign, the officers are just like everyone else, it's going to happen," said Kennedy. "There are so many different variables that happen in a personal life that can add to that feeling of overcoming."
"This job has killed me"
Clinical psychologist Carrie Steiner said that officer suicides are "absolutely" the sign of deeper problems within the department – especially the three workplace suicides.
"For me, the officers who committed suicide on duty, in uniform, at work, show me that" this job has killed me, "said Steiner." And I think that as a culture, the culture of the police, we need to hear them so that their life is not taken in vain. "
Steiner has been a police officer in Chicago for 13 years. She earned her Ph.D. in psychology while working in the department, and left the force in 2010 to create the First Responders Wellness Center, a therapists office in the southwestern suburbs of Lombard, Illinois.
"I recognized that so many officers were not doing well, I knew 18 officers who had committed suicide," Steiner said. "Many people started coming to me and asking for help, and I realized that the need was more for me to help other officers than for me to do. To be a police officer. "
Steiner has three other clinicians in his office. She said that they serve about 125 clients and she estimates that 70% of them are Chicago police officers. Steiner said in recent years that "many" of his police clients "were struggling".
She added that the public outcry and criticism from the police had claimed many lives. On top of that, the officers in Chicago are struggling with a level of trauma unique to most of the country.
In the past five years, Chicago police have been involved in almost 3,000 murders. Steiner said this is something called cumulative trauma.
"When you see all this trauma, you start to change your total basic belief system," said Steiner. "And so you're going to have more pessimistic officers, more officers who simply do not believe that what they do has a purpose."
The department is committed to hiring six additional clinical therapists to serve the Chicago police, bringing the total number of clinicians in the department to ten. Even with this hiring, Chicago's ratio of therapists per officer will always be worse than some other departments in the country. , like Los Angeles and Miami.
"It's a failure"
What is perhaps even more important than adding staff, is to make sure that the agents who need help feel comfortable with the request.
"The ministry will tell you," Yes, we have these resources, "but they put nothing in place to make it accessible," said former Chicago police officer Brian Warner. "They put a lot of things in place, I think, just to appease the media and maybe to calm themselves, but they still have not deterred the stigma of the officer and, more importantly, they did not lighten the officer's burden [to seek out help]. I think it's the responsibility of the department to provide that information and make it so accessible that officers feel comfortable doing it. "
Warner is a strong advocate for the mental health of the police. He said that recent suicides among officers are proof that the department does not really make a difference in the problem.
"If five officers commit suicide in six months, it's a failure," Warner said. "And whoever thinks otherwise is naïve, whoever thinks" Oh, it's not bound to duty "is naive, and almost insensitive, to say that this person did not commit suicide because of the work that was going on there. She was performing every day, and the inability that the department provide a way to get rid of this trauma in a safe environment. "
Warner left the Chicago Police Department in 2011, after a shootout in which he was shot. He fought back, killing the man who shot him.
Warner said that he was still suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder caused by the shooting.
Warner said that after the shooting, he took a year to recover physically and mentally. He returned to the department with a plan from his doctor on how best to readjust to police work. He added that the ministry had rejected his plan and had been forced to leave the police force.
"I felt abandoned, I felt again mistreated by the ministry because when I first asked for resources, he was not able to provide them," he said. Warner.
He said that stories like this contribute to skepticism and confusion among officers about the support available and the potential consequences of mental health research. And he said that the department did not have enough training or policy in place to combat this.
"There is currently an officer sitting in a police car, who fears going out into the street, right next to him, wondering" where the hell can I turn? Warner said, "This uncertainty and the ambiguous way it is currently responsible create an environment in which people are afraid to ask for help."
A policewoman from the Calumet district who knew Régine Perpignan said she did not believe that the department had improved the management of the officers' well-being.
She spoke under the guise of anonymity because she was not allowed by the department to speak in public. She said that it was always as if it was everyone to get help.
"You'd better include mental health"
In the new reform plan, called the Consent Decree, the department needs to better communicate services to agents and "address the stigma, misinformation and other potential barriers faced by members who use these services".
It is clear that improving the welfare of the agents is not only essential to the security of the officers, but also to the public safety of Chicago.
The consent decree sets out noble goals to improve community-police relations and reduce the number of violent encounters.
It also indicates that the welfare of the agents is essential to job performance and safety, both for the agent and for the community.
Brian Warner evokes a hypothetical scenario of an officer who has spent weeks seeing trauma after another, with no healthy exit nor good coping skills.
"And now he comes up with someone who is in a mental health crisis, who is also at 10 … the officer is probably at 10," Warner said. "So if you want to choose and choose" oh yeah, we want a de-escalation, and we want the brass to do it, and we want the brass to do it "include those resources."
Steiner said the department should do annual wellness checkups, with each officer meeting a clinical therapist. She said it would be an opportunity to reduce the stigma associated with consulting a mental health professional and give clinicians a chance to dispel misinformation.
Rochelle Perpignan said that her sister-in-law was afraid of being helped by fear of the repercussions on her work. She does not blame the ministry for death, but she regrets not having worked better to reassure her and reassure her.
"For someone who has done so much for the city, I think the least we can do is make sure people can get the help they need without fear losing their jobs, "said Rochelle Perpignan.