CPD officer is third to take own life in 2 months

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A 54-year-old veteran Chicago Police Department officer took her life in her personal car in the parking lot of this CPD district headquarters. She was the third Chicago police officer to commit suicide in the last two months. | Google Streetview

A Chicago police officer took her own life in the parking lot of a Far South Side police station early Wednesday.

The officer, a 54-year-old woman who police said was a “veteran” of the department, was identified by the Cook County medical examiner’s office as Regine Perpignan of the Gresham neighborhood.

It was the second suicide of a Chicago Police Department member in that parking lot since early July and the third suicide of a Chicago police officer in the last two months.

The police department said it was making counselors available to officers in the Calumet District, where she was foundin her personal car.

“Crushing news for the department this morning as we grapple with the suicide of a veteran #ChicagoPolice officer who took her life inside her personal vehicle,” Guglielmi tweeted. “Please pray for this officer’s family and fellow officers of @ChicagoCAPS05.”

Last week, Sgt. Steven Bechina, of the CPD’s Mass Transit Unit, shot himself while on duty in the first block of North Des Plaines in the West Loop.

The Calumet District already suffered through two other officer deaths over the summer.

On July 9, Officer Brandon Krueger, a 36-year-old officer of five years, shot himself in the head in the Calumet District’s parking lot. Two days later, Officer Vinita Williams, 47, fell unconscious in the station and died a short time later.

In a note to department members Wednesday, CPD Supt. Eddie Johnson said, “Death by suicide is clearly a problem in Law Enforcement and in the Chicago Police Department. We all have our breaking points, a time of weakness where we feel as if there is no way out, no alternative. But it does not have to end that way. You are NOT alone. Death by suicide is a problem that we can eliminate together.”

The CPD, in a video published to YouTube last year, acknowledged the many stresses officers face. The department cited deteriorating personal relationships, civil litigation brought against officers, disrespect from civilians, bearing witness to tragedy on a regular basis, as well as the life-threatening nature of the job itself.

One CPD officer, speaking to the Sun-Times on condition of anonymity, said Wednesday morning: “Even if it is something you are going through at home, working this job doesn’t help.”

The department video encouraged officers to reach out to the CPD’s Professional Counseling Division/Employee Assistance Program if they are feeling suicidal.

The Professional Counseling Division/Employee Assistance Program is staffed 24 hours a day and is available to all department members and their immediate families. It is free of charge and not based in a police department facility.

Guglielmi said the department recently hired four counselors and plans to hire three more, which would bring the EAP staff to 10. There are about 12,000 sworn members of the Chicago Police Department.

Another Chicago police officer, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said that after he attended counseling sessions through the CPD, he was ordered to submit to breath and urine tests.

After that, “I sought help elsewhere,” he said.

“The counselors there are all pretty good and trying to help,” he added. “The administration of it makes a lot of officers leery of showing up to the door.”

Guglielmi said that it is not department policy to subject officers to breath and urine tests after visiting the EAP.

“EAP wouldn’t mandate that,” Guglielmi said in an email. “This had to be a custom issue with this particular officer.”

In 2016, the Badge of Life, a police suicide prevention program, said officers in the United States had a suicide rate of 12 per 100,000.

When the Department of Justice released a scathing report on the CPD’s policies and practices the next year, it said the suicide rate of officers in Chicago was 60 percent higher than the national average.

The draft of the consent decree between the city and Illinois Attorney General focuses heavily on mental health resources for Chicago police officers.

As part of the consent decree, the CPD would be required to “provide training to supervisory personnel regarding available CPD officer support services and strategies for communicating with officers about these services in a manner that minimizes any perceived stigma; and seek to identify and correct misperceptions among CPD members about receiving counseling services.”

Some officers decline to seek mental health treatment because they believe it could affect their eligibility for a Firearm Owners Identification Card — a necessary aspect of their employment.

The draft consent decree goes on to state that, “CPD will develop and implement a roll call training to explain and address the effects on Firearm Owners Identification (“FOID”) card eligibility, if any, when a CPD member seeks or receives CPD support services, including, but not limited to, counseling and mental health treatment.”

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