April 6, 2020 Guest Post – Meuser, Yackley & Rowland, P.A. “Caring for the Sheepdogs: Police Officer Suicide”

Prayer of the Sheepdog
By Roger Temple

The Knights of Old were Men of Honor

Who used their Might For Right!

Today they’re known as Sheepdogs,

Those who carry on the fight.

I am a tired old Sheepdog,

The guardian of my flock.

I keep the predators at bay

And stand watch around the clock.

Please stop the Sheep from pulling my teeth.

I’ll need them for the fight,

When the hungry Wolves come calling

Some dark and deadly night.

I pray I’ll never need my gun,

But someday if I do,

May my cause be just!

My draw be quick!

And my aim be ever true!

Heaven holds a special place

For those who do the deed,

Defenders of the innocent

In their hour of need.

May the Sheep someday be grateful.

There’s a debt they cannot pay

To the Sheepdogs who lay it on the line

Each and every day.

I am proud to be a Sheepdog.

I’ve done my very best.

I’ll stand my watch until my Maker

Calls me home to rest.

But when I meet St. Peter

There’s just one request I’ll make,

“Please let me spend Eternity

Standing guard at Heaven’s Gate”.

Lord, help us bring this ”Age of Sheep”

To a rapid end.

Then fill this land with Sheepdogs,

Men of Honor, once again.

This prayer is dedicated

To those who bravely face,

The dangers all around us,

To make our world a safer place.

To the soldiers, cops and warriors-

Sheepdogs through and through.

Thank you for your service

And your sacrifices too.

But who will care for the Sheepdog when he is tired, when he is old, when he is injured, when he is sick?

I will. We will.

The Star Tribune recently ran a story about the unique job stressors faced by Minnesota police officers and first responders, and the increasing rate of police officer suicides. Sadly, two Minnesota police officers committed suicide on the same day in November 2019. I can’t begin to describe how heart-breaking it is to hear a police officer explain that he was suffering so terribly due to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and/or other job-related mental health issues that he considered suicide as his only way “out.” I’ve heard this too many times to count. And it has to stop.

The tragic deaths of Sargent Cory Slifko and Officer Blake Neumann seems to have finally prompted a call to action amongst many of our State’s law enforcement agencies, and at Meuser, Yackley & Rowland, P.A. we are cautiously optimistic that some departments are instituting policies and programs to get confidential, affordable, timely mental health resources to our State’s first responders. We cannot continue to lose our State’s police officers to suicide. One police officer suicide is too many. Something must change.

Shockingly, there is no formal governmental agency tasked with tracking police officer and first responder suicide rates. But we know the suicide rate amongst first responders is devastating. A Massachusetts non-profit, Blue H.E.L.P., is tracking law enforcement officer suicides to bring attention to how serious this problem is, and to honor the service of those who end their own lives. According to Blue H.E.L.P., police officer suicides across the nation rose from 143 in 2016 to at least 228 in 2019. And there have already been 17 police officer suicides in 2020, setting us for a pace to set a new terrible record this year. Death by suicide amongst law enforcement officers is the leading cause of line-of-duty deaths. And these statistics are almost certainly low. Blue H.E.L.P. relies on voluntary reporting of an officer’s suicide by the deceased officer’s survivor(s) or department. That report is then investigated and verified by Blue H.E.L.P. This means that if an officer dies by suicide, but has no survivors or his or her survivors choose not to report the officer’s death to Blue H.E.L.P., that death is not counted amongst the statistics. These statistics also do not include officer suicides where survivors choose not to formally acknowledge the officer’s death as a suicide, or deaths by other more insidious self-harmful behaviors, such as excessive alcohol use.

Beyond the emotional devastation a deceased officer’s survivors face, there are almost inevitably financial struggles for the families that are left behind, including the loss an officer’s income and benefits like health insurance. Resources that are available for the surviving families of officers who have ended their own lives vary dramatically from one department to the next. Even when there are resources available, such as in the line of duty death benefits, continued health insurance benefits for surviving family members, and/or workers’ compensation benefits, a deceased officer’s survivors may still face an uphill battle to actually get those benefits. You see, more often than not, it boils down to the almighty dollar, and in order to save a buck, workers’ compensation insurers and governmental agencies often dispute that an officer’s suicide was “in the line of duty.”

Meuser, Yackley & Rowland, P.A. have represented several surviving families of Minnesota police officers who ended their own lives due to job-related mental health related issues. We can help secure a variety of benefits on behalf of the survivors of a deceased police officer, which hopefully will lighten the financial burden of those left behind to a small degree. While we cannot undo the past, easing the financial stresses of survivors of officers who have taken their own lives can help allow those families to focus on recovering, remembering, and reflecting.

While I hope one day there are no more police officer suicides, and that our State’s first responders have quick, effective access to mental health services, and that post-traumatic stress disorder is no longer an epidemic, until then, we at Meuser, Yackley & Rowland, P.A. are honored to serve Minnesota’s law enforcement community when they need it most. For we are the caretakers of the Sheepdog.