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After rash of officer suicides, mayor announces NYPD mental health program

October 24, 2019 Alex Williamson

Following a sharp spike in police officer suicides, a new program will provide free and confidential mental health services to active duty NYPD officers, the Mayor’s Office announced this week.

The program, called Finest Care, will be administered by New York-Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan. Officers can call a 24/7 hotline and a coordinator at the hospital will arrange a free and anonymous appointment for the officer with a psychiatrist or psychologist.

Previously, the NYPD directed officers to the department’s own Medical Division for mental healthcare. An independent program would help officers come forward, Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

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“Our officers see a lot of trauma. They see a lot of human pain,” said de Blasio at a press conference on Thursday. “They’re there to help people at some of the toughest moments of their lives, but then they share in that experience.”

The city will cover the full cost of Finest Care, which is funded up to $1 million for the first 18 months, NBC reported.

According to Dr. Philip Wilner, vice president of New York-Presbyterian, the program has been set up so that no one at NYPD will know when an officer seeks help.

“Police are in constant hypervigilance, ready to respond to the challenges they may face with barely a moment’s notice,” said Wilner. “With that responsibility comes enormous stress, and we know that people often don’t know where to turn when they feel enormous stress.”

Last week in Queens, a 33-year-old off-duty officer was found by his wife, dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. He was the 10th active-duty NYPD officer to die by suicide in 2019, more than double the rate from each of the past five years, a startling rise that NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill has called a “crisis.”

Four NYPD officers died by suicide in June, including Det. Joseph Calabrese, who died in southern Brooklyn just one day after NYPD veteran Chief Steven Silks committed suicide in his service vehicle near Forest Hills stadium in Queens.

The mayor said that officers could make the call anonymously, and that counselors at the hospital would only alert NYPD about particular officers in their care if, in the clinicians’ judgment, those officers were likely to hurt themselves or others, as required by state law under the SAFE Act.

When asked why cops needed confidentiality to come forward, NYPD Commissioner Benjamin Tucker pointed to a fear among officers of being stripped of badges or service weapons.

“If your gun is taken away for medical reasons, we’ll let you keep your shield,” Tucker said. “When you’re a cop the shield and the gun becomes a part of your identity.”

De Blasio said that an officer losing either for mental health reasons is exceptionally rare.

“The vast majority of the challenges our officers face do not rise to the level of even talking about taking away a gun or a badge,” said the mayor.

The Finest Care hotline will be live starting Monday. Active duty NYPD officers interested in confidential and free mental health services can call 646-697-2020.

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