5th San Antonio police officer dies from suicide in last 7 months, experts weigh in: ‘Stop the demonization’
This story discusses suicide. If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, please contact the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 or 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
A 30-year-old Texas police officer in San Antonio committed suicide in early October, marking the fifth suicide in the department by an officer or recently retired officer in the past seven months, which experts tell G3 Box News Digital is a stark reminder of the growing struggles police face doing their jobs amid the defund the police movement that has demonized officers nationwide.
San Antonio Police Officer Jordan Hammond, a five-year veteran of the force, died from suicide at the age of 30 last week, KENS-TV reported. A spokesperson for the department confirmed to the outlet that Hammond’s death is the fifth suicide in the department in the last seven months. Four of the five deaths were active-duty officers and the fifth was an officer who retired two weeks before his death.
Tania Glenn, a trauma therapist in the Austin, Texas, area for 30 years and president of Tania Glenn and Associates, which specializes in providing mental health services to first responders and veterans, told G3 Box News Digital that the demonization of police by the media and politicians has played a significant role in crushing law enforcement morale nationwide.
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“They have a really big city with a lot of violence, and they have been dealing with the media portrayals of law enforcement folks as demons,” Glenn said. “And they have sort of been cut off from society and engaging in making people happy with “coffee with a cop” and things like that. All these things have really come to a screeching halt between the pandemic and what happened after George Floyd. So, they’re isolated. Their mental health is suffering, the trauma is compounding, and it’s just this perfect storm for what’s happening there.“
Glenn, who wrote a book for the children of police officers called “Protected But Scared” in the aftermath of the 2014 Ferguson riots that she says saw an increase in sales following the death of George Floyd, explained to G3 Box News Digital that the Floyd riots in 2020 had a significant effect on the mental health of not only officers but their families as well.
“You look at how many law enforcement wives were taking the Thin Blue Line stickers off their cars because they didn’t want to be hunted down or harassed or have their cars keyed, and just listening in [to] some of those Facebook groups, the dialog and the chat of even the family members, it’s just a massive, massive accumulation of stress that’s impacting the mental health of all the officers and their families,” Glenn said.
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Glenn, referencing as an example the plummeting police morale in nearby Austin, where the city council voted to defund the police in 2020, acknowledged that the demonization of police compounds even further when elected officials join in on the demonization of police that has been prevalent across media outlets.
Glenn pointed out how local officials across the country were “mindblowingly” marching alongside with many of the anti-police protesters, which she says “absolutely” affects the mental health of officers who are put in a situation where they believe their leaders don’t have the backs of officers who do the right thing.
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“When there’s no one there to support you and no one really has your back other than fellow officers, then they say, ‘Why do I do this?’” Glenn said. “‘And why do I keep going?’ And simultaneously to all of that, I think all of that, if their mental health is starting to suffer and their serotonin levels are off, and they don’t see life in terms of the big picture that if we move through this process, things may get better, or I can explore other options in my life.”
“It comes down to the fact that all they see is that suicide is the only option and their brain and depression does this awful thing. It really tricks you into believing that people will be better off without you, which, of course, cannot be further from the truth,” Glenn continued.
Darron Phillips, a 28-year veteran of the San Antonio Police Department who served in a variety of roles including as a bomb technician and a detective, told G3 Box News Digital that officers dating back to when he was on the force have a tendency to internalize trauma and stressors from the job.
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“One of the first things I was told as a young patrolman is don’t you dare ever even call your sergeant if you have an issue,” Phillips said. “You call a senior patrolman over there, and you go to him first, and if he can’t figure it out, then you call the sergeant. Sergeants did not want to be bothered in 1988 with a patrolman’s little crap, so it already starts a culture where you kind of internalize stuff, and you keep it in-house.”
Phillips also acknowledged that the George Floyd political movement “really hurts police work” and pointed to the way social media has potentially left young people without communication skills and isolated people from society.
Additionally, Phillips said that traumatic brain injuries like chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have become more of a factor in the police force today.
He told G3 Box News Digital that the “Ferguson effect,” the theory that crime rates increase when police officers hesitate or pull back from policing as a result of demonization and distrust from the media and politicians, is “absolutely 100% true.”
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“They were told, do not run search warrants, do not break anybody’s door down,” Phillips said about orders given to officers in the San Antonio area in recent years. “If you’re going to have to do a search warrant, you have to wait the suspect out, and you have to go back to the house and you better have your body cameras on and better not break down a door. So, the Ferguson effect isn’t just cops not wanting to do their job. It’s the head of the department that doesn’t want you to do your jobs.”
“They [department leaders] don’t want to get the media in their face asking them why they allowed their officers to shoot this poor person, so it’s not just the officers because it is true the officers are scared because they know they [leadership] won’t get their back. But not only that, most police departments are terrified of the media.”
Phillips said that police staffing in San Antonio has not adequately kept up with the population boom in the city over the past few decades, which adds to the stress of police work.
“We had 780,000 people when I got on the department,” Phillips said. “We now have 1.2 million people and have the same number of officers. You cannot do that. You have to have X amount of officers per capita.”
Glenn echoed Phillip’s sentiment that a stigma can sometimes be attached to mental health and officers reporting issues with depression, alcoholism or drug abuse to superior officers.
“Officers, by the very nature of their job, they are always inserted into the worst days of people’s lives,” Glenn said, adding that oftentimes officers see others committing suicide and are subconsciously drawn to going that route themselves due to depression and hopelessness making it seem that suicide is the only way out.
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“In this situation, with San Antonio, it really does happen that one officer takes his or her life, and then there is frequently a chain reaction,” Glenn said. “Officers that have been contemplating this frequently decide to do it because there’s this incident that happened, and it happens in families where a lot of families have just generation after generation where there is suicide. And we know that kids whose parents take their lives, they’re much more likely to take theirs when they begin to struggle, and it’s the same thing with the police departments. When one officer does it and sometimes others follow.“
The SAPD says that the list of officers who died includes Officer Paul Carreon, who died in April after 19 years of service, Officer Paul Zavala, who served for 28 years and died two weeks after retiring in June, Officer Justin Garcia, who died in August after serving six years, and Detective Frank Rodriguez, who died in September after 15 years of service.
The San Antonio police did not immediately respond to a request for comment from G3 Box News Digital.
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When asked by G3 Box News Digital what city leaders can do immediately going forward to address the issues with suicides, Glenn said that publicly supporting law enforcement is a good first step.
“I would say to anybody high up in government to stop fearing the repercussions of standing behind your police officers and get behind them and start to support them,” Glenn said. “You don’t just throw money at the problem, but what you do is you pull together the best resources that you can. You stand behind your officers, and of course, continue to provide the best training you can. There needs to be a massive, massive effort on recruiting, so we can build back our numbers and increase the morale. But the key is stop the demonization of the profession and to quickly move to get back behind our police officers and to support them.”