COLORADO SPRINGS — Now to a very difficult subject, but one that must be talked about. Law enforcement leaders say it's the biggest threat they face across the country, the increasing number of officer suicides.
In 2019, these deaths hit an all-time high with both current and former officers taking their own lives.
Officer suicides have become such a problem non-profit organizations are tracking the numbers and nationwide a record 228 current or former officers died by suicide. 12 were reported in Colorado last year.
With most officers now wearing body cameras we see first hand just how intense the job can be. While the job comes with dangers in the streets research shows a record number of officers are losing their lives by suicide.
More took their own lives than officers killed in the line of duty. Fountain Police Chief Christopher Heberer is passionate about reversing those numbers.
"You know for a very long time we didn't talk about it because look it's a tough guy sport. It's a type A personality driven thing and so you have all the downfalls of that. You have the persona and the perception that noone can ask for help because it's weakness," Chief Heberer said.
In Fountain, the chief says it starts at the top and leading by example.
"I Chief Heberer six foot five, consider myself a big tough dude right? I've had to ask for help before. So, if I can do it I'm like, it's ok for you to do it," Chief Heberer said.
State law that just went in to effect requires police departments to have programs and plans established to help officers in distress. It's something the Colorado Springs Police Department has spent years working on.
"As the officers get the support they need they are better at delivering customer service. They can deal with their stress in a healthy way and then they are focused at work," Colorado Springs Police Department Sergeant Eric Frederic said.
Police leaders agree, the reality is major change has to happen or more lives will be lost.
"Unless everybody is engaged on this topic, which is a critical topic, and everyone is thinking outside the box, and everyone has an open mind, and everyone is willing to learn and grow than guess what? Next year is going to be the same as this year. We're going to set another record," Chief Heberer said.
One of the questions News5 asked law enforcement leaders is what can we as the public do to help with this crisis? We were told one of the top de-stressers for officers is knowing they are appreciated by the public. So, just thanking officers goes a long way for their mental health.