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Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee Chair Gordon M. Johnson today turned the spotlight on police suicide prevention at a hearing held by his committee where some of the state’s top law enforcement representatives testified on the need for increased vigilance and prevention.

Johnson, a retired Bergen County Sheriff, noted that in 2011, so far, there have already been five suicides among three active officers and two retired officers and one attempted suicide in New Jersey. In 2010, Cop2Cop, the state-run, confidential, peer counseling program, prevented 20 suicides and the State Policemen’s Benevolent Association (PBA) psychologist and trained crisis managers intervened in 11 calls from suicidal members.

Johnson also noted one of the most surprising statistics presented at the hearing is the fact that the state is loosing three times as many officers to suicide as in the line of duty.

Following the hearing, Johnson released the following statement:

“Countless studies show that police officers are more prone to suicide than the general population because of the high level of stress associated with their job and the types of incidents they deal with,” said Johnson (D-Bergen). “What can also exacerbate the problem is the perception that police officers are supposed to be ‘tough’ and not talk about their problems. Consequently, many will internalize the trauma they face on the job, which may lead to drinking problems, trouble at home, and a host of other issues. This is then compounded by the fact that officers have a firearm readily available, making the option of suicide all that much easier.

“We need to build upon the findings of the 2009 report from the Governor’s Taskforce on Police Suicide and find ways to increase vigilance, intervention and prevention among our law enforcement officers. It’s all the more important that we focus a trained eye on the issue this year, given the added stresses facing many in our law enforcement community with massive police layoffs statewide, the demonization of public workers because of the state’s pension troubles, and the looming 10 year anniversary of 9/11, which many of our officers were directly impacted by.

“All of the testimony today will provide a good road map for future legislation to help us combat this problem,” said Johnson.

During the hearing, the committee heard testimony from some of the state’s top law enforcement representatives, including: NJ State PBA President Anthony F. Wieners, State Troopers Fraternal Association President Dave Jones, and Dr. Gene Stefanelli, NJ State PBA Staff Psychologist, as well as Cathy Kelly of Ewing, a survivor of a suicide victim.