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Alderman has plan to combat police suicides

Ald. Chris Taliaferro, chairman of the City Council’s Public Safety Committee and a former police officer, said CPD should have at least one licensed clinical psychologist in each of its 22 districts and five areas.

Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th), the former Chicago Police officer now chairing the City Council’s Committee on Public Safety.
Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th), the former Chicago Police officer now chairing the City Council’s Committee on Public Safety.
Sun-Times file

The Chicago Police Department should have at least one licensed clinical psychologist in each of the city’s 22 districts and five areas to confront a suicide problem that is the “single greatest cause of death” among police officers, an influential alderman said Wednesday.

Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th), chairman of the City Council’s Public Safety Committee, wants to follow the plan that helped Los Angeles go 18 months without an officer suicide. His comments come a day after newly-promoted deputy chief Dion Boyd was found dead in his Homan Square office of a gunshot wound. His death was ruled a suicide.

Taliaferro is a former CPD officer who worked with Boyd in the Bureau of Internal Affairs.

The alderman said he has no idea what would possess a 30-year veteran who had just been tapped as one of the department’s rising stars to take his own life.

But Taliaferro said he is determined to do more to prevent it from happening in the future.

He wants Chicago to follow the LAPD’s lead by hiring at least 27 licensed clinical psychologists — one for each district and area.

“They’re trained to be able to observe a person who may have a problem. They talk to officers, building a bond with them. It allows officers to come in and speak with them when there is an issue, without having to talk to a stranger,” Taliaferro said.

CPD has 11 licensed clinicians — up from three, an amount criticized in the U.S. Justice Department’s scathing indictment of CPD — but no licensed clinical psychologists.

After a wave of officer suicides last year, CPD expanded peer support teams to every police district and launched a “You Are Not Alone” campaign to encourage officers to seek help and assure them they would not be punished or ostracized if they do.

Taliaferro knows the pain of officer suicide first-hand. Early in his police career, his sometimes-partner took his own life.

“I spoke to him on his birthday at Area 5. ... We spoke for about 30 minutes and I could not detect a problem. In fact, we laughed and talked about the old times. The next day, he killed himself,” Taliaferro said.

“I was not trained to be able to detect when someone may be experiencing a problem. But [psychologists] are. When they form that relationship and that bond from being out in the districts — getting to know the officers and the officers getting to know them, having lunch with the officers — an officer is more likely to sit down and say, ‘I’m having a problem. Can I talk to you about it? How do I get through this? How do I get through that?’”

Police suicides aren’t Taliaferro’s only concern. He also predicts a tidal wave of police retirements and a dramatic drop in the number of police exam applicants due to anti-police sentiment triggered by the Memorial Day death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

“They will attrition out. We’re gonna have a tough time keeping up with that. I see that in Chicago’s future. I see that as a response to de-funding police. … More folks will choose a different path,” he said.

“The profession still has the dignity and the courage that’s needed. But it’s lost its luster. It’s no longer looked at the same. Police officers get it from every single end. They get it from elected officials. They get it from the public when many of `em are just trying to do right by our residents.”

Incident at congressman’s office not a firing offense, alderman says

Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara has blamed rock-bottom morale and distrust of Mayor Lori Lightfoot for the dramatic slowdown in police activity coinciding with a surge in Chicago homicides and shootings.

Catanzara has pointed to the dramatic news conference last month at which Lightfoot accused officers of sleeping on a couch, popping popcorn and drinking coffee in the burglarized South Side campaign office of Congressman Bobby Rush, located in a strip mall where looters had a field day.

Wednesday, Taliaferro likened the officers’ behavior to “going to someone’s house, looking in their refrigerator, finding something that you enjoy and eating it.”

But he argued there were “mitigating circumstances” that make the offenses worthy of a suspension of several days at best. Maybe even a reprimand. Certainly not mass firings.

“These officers were, in fact, tired. These officers worked a long shift and they had worked continuous 12-hour shifts, spending very little time with their families — oftentimes being on the street [for] hours without eating anything,” Taliaferro said.

“It does not excuse ... lounging, sleeping, eating and disrespecting Congressman Rush’s office. But it’s not a very egregious infraction.”