Chicago police Officer Paul Escamilla liked corny jokes. He had three children, coached his son’s Little League team and played golf. A former supervisor called him “the guy that everybody could work with.” He earned more than 120 awards in 17 years of service.

Last week, Escamilla died by suicide. He was 40 years old. His was the fourth suicide by a Chicago police officer this year, and at least the eighth since July 2018.

Too many CPD officers are taking their own lives. Each is tragic and there is no acceptable number of self-inflicted deaths. Nor are there easy explanations for why an officer such as Escamilla would commit suicide.

The question the city must continue to ask is whether it’s doing enough to encourage mental health care and put in place routine good habits to help officers process stress. Brains need maintenance, just as bodies do. A healthy police force benefits the entire city.

A big part of the department’s challenge is determining the extent to which the culture of policing and policies, even in subtle ways, discourages officers from seeking self-care. Officers experience violence and witness other disturbing scenes in their work, yet they may deny themselves the opportunity to manage their emotions due to a mistaken belief it would suggest weakness. They are subjected to enormous stress. They have easy access to guns.

The department has a dozen counselors to serve more than 13,000 members. That number suggests that contact with a counselor will be fairly rare. Officers must be made aware of alternatives, including ways to seek help confidentially.

At a mental health summit in Chicago this summer, experts suggested steps for the department to take. Some have proven effective in other cities, and all sound sensible: Train supervisors to speak to officers about wellness and suicide, and to evaluate the wellness of officers in their command. Assign clinicians to drop in during all shifts at district stations to build camaraderie and normalize seeking help. Require more check-ins after police shootings.

Anyone considering suicide should know that mental health disorders can be treated and that the National Suicide Prevention hotline is always available at (800) 273-8255.

Chicago isn’t alone in this struggle. New York has had a record nine suicides on its 36,000-member force this year. It appears likely to bolster its support of police by adding therapists and connecting officers to resources, including annual mental health checkups and peer groups, The New York Times reported. “We need to make sure mental health services are the norm,” said Donovan Richards, a New York City councilman who leads the committee that oversees police.

Policing in Chicago is tough enough for an entire department. It should never become unbearable for a single officer.

Editorial by the Chicago Tribune

Visit the Chicago Tribune at www.chicagotribune.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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