County to take action on addressing first-responder suicides

First responders secure a man found clinging to the side of the Whites Canyon Road bridge over the Santa Clara River in Canyon Country. Austin Dave/The Signal.
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County supervisors plan to address taking action to prevent suicide among first responders on Tuesday.

Los Angeles County 5th District Supervisor Kathryn Barger, whose jurisdiction includes the Santa Clarita Valley, and 4th District Supervisor Janice Hahn plan to introduce a motion to review the policies and procedures addressing suicides within Los Angeles County Fire Department and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, according to county documents.

Barger wants to ensure law enforcement professionals are getting mental help counseling and postvention education, said Barger spokesman Tony Bell.

First-responder suicides, such as a recent death by self-inflicted gunshot wound in the Santa Clarita Valley, indicate discussion needs to happen on the county level, Bell said.

“Anytime you have a suicide of a first responder, the county family grieves,” he said. “Supervisor Barger particularly is impacted by a loss of a first responder, and we want to prevent any future incidents as best we can… She feels it’s an urgent matter that needs to be addressed now.”

The motion is to review current policies and services addressing suicide prevention and trauma-informed education and outreach for emergency personnel and first-responders. It also calls to examine historical data on deaths and gather statistics, and identify and work with experts who can bring insight on how to develop protocol to reduce the number of suicides.

Language in the motion states that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide in the general population was the tenth leading cause of death in the United States in 2016, claiming twice as many lives (44,965) as homicide (18,362).

In a recent paper published by the Ruderman Family Foundation, the suicide rate among first responders is reported to be higher than those in the general population. The Ruderman report also stated that the number of firefighters and law enforcement officers who took their own lives outnumbered all line-of-duty deaths in 2017, according to the documents.

The Ruderman report indicates that not enough agencies have programs and policies in place to address suicide prevention, and Bell said this was cause for concern on Barger’s part.

The motion is planned for introduction on Sept. 11, the anniversary of the attack on the Twin Towers in New York City. The correlation isn’t a coincidence — the motion serves as a homage for first responders, such as the ones that helped victims of the attack 17 years ago, and is intended to help them with traumatic episodes, Bell said.

“What better way to honor those who save our lives than to help them save theirs?” he said.

Bell said Barger and Hahn intend for a comprehensive investigation on what the sheriff’s department and fire department are doing, with statistics prepared in a full report to be returned in 90 days from Tuesday.


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