3rd apparent suicide by a Chicago police officer in a week highlights continuing CPD problem

A psychologist and former cop said the department must do more to help officers.

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A Chicago police officer was found dead by apparent suicide Thursday on the Southwest Side — the third reported by the department within a week.

Sun-Times file

The apparent suicide of a third Chicago cop within a week needs to be a wake-up call for a department that has been long criticized over how it takes care of its officers, a psychologist who treats members of law enforcement told the Sun-Times Thursday.

Earlier in the day, an officer was found dead at his home in the Chicago Lawn District on the Southwest Side, according to police department spokesman Tom Ahern.

It was believed that he took his own life, but no details have been released.

On Tuesday, an off-duty officer was found dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. She had been on the force five years and had been working as a tactical officer in the Central District downtown, Ahern said.

On Dec. 15, a 58-year-old officer was found dead in the 5800 block of North Northwest Highway, also of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound, authorities said.

“If we don’t start talking about this, then people are going to do what just happened in this last week,” said Dr. Carrie Steiner, a psychologist whose practice focuses solely on law enforcement officers and their spouses.

Steiner said she understands the pressures and traumas police face each day because she’s done the job.

Steiner worked for the Chicago Police Department for 13 years and knows officers who have died by suicide. She said she decided to leave the department to focus on the mental health of officers after she was approached by a colleague who told her he was considering suicide.

The deaths in the last week bring the total number of Chicago police officers who have died by suicide this year to eight, according to records kept by the Sun-Times. At least a dozen Chicago police officers have died by suicide since 2018.

Steiner said numbers like that are evidence the city is failing to address the mental health of officers who feel overworked with nowhere to turn.

The city will “say we have all these programs and all these things,” Steiner said, “but if people aren’t using them or — what I experience — that people will try to go to them and not be able to get in for a long period of time ... that’s not helping.”

Chicago Police Supt. David Brown released a statement Thursday acknowledging that “we must do more to protect the brave men and women who protect us.”

“The recent tragedies we have faced are immensely devastating for the families and loved ones of those we have lost to suicide, as well as every member of the department,” Brown said.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot also addressed the latest apparent suicide, saying it is “important for us to make sure that, when we know someone is having struggles, that we don’t ignore it. That we reach out. That we offer our own assistance and just to be a listening ear.”

Family members of officers who have taken their own lives have said the stress of the job is magnified by the department’s practice of routinely canceling days off.

In late August, city Inspector General Deborah Witzburg released a report that found nearly 1,200 officers had to work at least 11 straight days earlier this year.

An officer who spoke to a reporter Thursday on the condition their name not be used echoed Steiner in saying members of the force don’t believe Lightfoot or Brown understand the gravity of not giving officers more time off.

“They just don’t get it,” the officer said. “I don’t think they’re out to get us, I just think they don’t have any understanding of what it’s like.

“We’re not machines,” the officer said. “We’re people.”

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