258 – Suicide Prevention
To establish an employee-focused suicide prevention program in accordance with national guidelines and best practices, and in support of the safety, health, and longevity of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) employees.
It is Harris County Sheriff’s Office Policy that our organization:
A. Makes substantial efforts to reduce employee suicides and suicide risk.
B. Fosters a climate that:
1. Encourages personnel to seek help and build resilience.
2. Increases awareness about behavioral healthcare and reduces the stigma for employees who seek behavioral healthcare.
3. Protects the privacy of employees seeking or receiving treatment relating to suicidal behavior.
C. Provides employees continuous access to quality behavioral healthcare and other supportive services, including peer support, spiritual support, and other crisis services; and foster collaboration of HCSO suicide prevention efforts and services to strengthen readiness and resilience of HCSO employees and their families.
D. Provides HCSO employees with a training framework on suicide prevention.
E. Employs methods for suicide prevention, intervention, and post-vention that reflect a holistic approach.
F. Fosters collaboration, cooperation, and coordination among stakeholders, including intra-agency and with other law enforcement agencies, appropriate public and private entities, and appropriate institutions of higher education to support suicide prevention policies and programs.
A. Leadership Involvement – HCSO works to build an environment that promotes healthy and adaptive behaviors, foster awareness of early warning signs, and encourage responsible and early help-seeking. The administration ensures adequate resourcing, effective policy and program implementation, and frequent communication and messaging to encourage leadership engagement at all levels.
1. The Sheriff or designee in coordination with HCSO Behavioral Health Division (BHD) and HCSO Media Relations, disseminates formal messaging and or policy memoranda regarding suicide awareness and the destigmatizing of help-seeking, at least annually.
2. HCSO BHD and HCSO Media Relations coordinates public messaging concerning awareness, prevention, destigmatizing, support services available, and education regarding suicide and related psychosocial topics, at least quarterly.
3. Members of Command Staff, including the Sheriff, Chief Deputy, Command Chiefs, and Bureau Majors, consult regularly with the BHD Director in order to best foster communication, understand the specific needs of that leader’s department, implement policy, coordinate messaging, and ensure effective utilization of resources. Communication between members of Command Staff and the BHD Director is frequent and flexible, but occurs formally at least semiannually.
B. Training and Development – HCSO employees practice healthy behaviors, make responsible choices, and encourage others to do the same. Employees and supervisors foster a culture of early help-seeking, recognize the signs and symptoms of distress in themselves and others, and take protective action. While every individual plays a part in this culture, our agency works to encourage this via:
1. Foundational Training: All entry courses, basic (e.g., BCCC, BPOC, Professional Staff Orientation) and transitional (e.g., Lateral Deputy Course, New Supervisor Training), include suicide prevention training, focused on the specific competencies required of trainees.
2. For example, while all employees are taught skills to detect at-risk peers and intervene early with coworkers under stress, deputies are also trained in critical incident stress and its consequences, and supervisors are further trained in appropriate ways to aid personnel in securing mental health services if needed, such as voluntary, confidential self-referral or post-critical incident services available through the HCSO Behavioral Health Division, or employer-referred counseling through the HCSO Human Resources Division (H.R.).
3. Advanced Training: HCSO is a leading agency in Behavioral Health training and is considered a Department of Justice Learning Site through the Council of State Governments. Our Behavioral Health Training unit, in coordination with HCSO Academy Staff, BHD clinical Staff, and other external and internal partners, provides:
a. CIT: All sworn/certified employees receive Crisis Intervention Training, a 40 hour training covering mental health topics, including recognizing signs and symptoms of mental health disorders, post-traumatic stress, and suicide prevention.
b. All HCSO employees receive 8 hour Active Bystandership for Law Enforcement (A.B.L.E.) training, of which Health and Wellness is a primary pillar. Significant topics to suicide prevention include recognizing potential warning signs, self- and peer-aid, and how to access professional helping resources such as BHD, Chaplains, EAP, or other resources.
4. Refresher Training: In coordination with required refresher training for CIT, all sworn/certified employees receive 3 hour annual refresher training, taught by BHD clinical staff, focused on wellness and resiliency, including a suicide prevention component.
5. Semi-annual IAD Investigator Training: Employees facing criminal or administrative action may be at increased risk for suicide. Internal Affairs Division (IAD) Investigators receive specialized training in recognizing risk factors and warning signs in interview subjects, and in ensuring that subjects receive appropriate referral for supportive resources.
6. Quarterly Peer Support Team Training: HCSO BHD Staff provides or supervises quarterly training requirements for Peer Supporters to ensure they are current on the latest suicide prevention and other relevant training.
C. Peer Support and Unit-based preventive services: Suicide prevention requires personal connections. Fostering a climate of help-seeking and mutual support involves ongoing efforts to destigmatize, increase awareness, decrease barriers to support, and instill positive, proactive coping throughout the culture of our agency. Many HCSO initiatives contribute to these efforts.
1. Peer Support: HCSO’s Peer Support Program involves both proactive, positive networking efforts as well as crisis response. Peer Supporters are selected, screened, and trained to be vital assets to the goal of promoting a healthy culture, and though they are most often associated with response and support to critical incidents, their training is broad, holistic, and though they are not licensed behavioral health providers, their quarterly training requirements ensure they are current on the latest suicide prevention training, and often serve as the “boots on the ground” or “first adopters” with regards to promoting healthy behaviors. Peer Supporters work closely and train with our Department and volunteer Chaplains. HCSO BHD Staff supports, trains, and consults for HCSO’s Peer Support Team. The BHD Director also serves as Mental Health Director for HCSO’s Peer Support Team.
2. Commanders (or civilian equivalents) partner and regularly consult with HCSO BHD staff regarding unit-specific needs, how to best aid unit members and optimize duty performance, and regarding the provision of regular outreach and preventative messaging. The frequency and method of this consultation, and the unit-based services provided, differs based on unit type and mission, and is typically coordinated initially at the Command Staff level (e.g., via A.3., above), or in coordination with other HCSO Wellness initiatives.
D. Handoff policies: Relationship problems, substance misuse, and acute psychiatric distress are among the most common correlates among those who have attempted or completed suicide. HCSO leaders are provided specialized training in ensuring personnel receive appropriate support and referral for helping resources.
1. Employees facing criminal or administrative action may be at increased risk for suicide. IAD investigators are trained in attending to signs of distress in subjects. If an IAD investigator detects warning signs of suicide or harm to self or others, the investigator shall notify the employee chain of command. In the event of immediate crisis, IAD shall contact a CIRT unit to respond. If warning signs are observed but there is no immediate crisis, the investigator will notify the Internal Affairs Division Commander who will advise the employees Division Commander. The employees Division Commander will engage with the employee to ascertain their emotional state, and consult with Behavioral Health Division Staff to discuss referral options if risk of suicidality is suspected. The Division Commander will advise the employee facing criminal or administrative action of available resources (e.g., Chaplain, Behavioral Health Division, EAP, etc.) that can provide stress management, crisis intervention, and other appropriate services
E. Access to Services: HCSO employees are provided access to confidential supportive services, including peer support, spiritual support, and high quality behavioral health care, from a variety of sources.
1. In addition to medical/behavioral health services and Employee Assistance programming made available through County provided insurance, HCSO employees have unlimited access to free, confidential behavioral health clinical care through HCSO Behavioral Health Division (BHD) mental health providers, who specialize in providing care for First Responders and other Law Enforcement personnel. Employees are educated on these services, and encouraged to utilize them proactively, well in advance of crisis situations.
2. Employees assigned to specific high-exposure positions, prior to their transfer, and every two years thereafter, are required to attend a wellness check with a BHD mental health provider. The purpose of which is to reduce stigma, provide education, and “normalize” a focus on mental health.
3. In the event of an acute crisis, HCSO provides crisis intervention services via the Crisis Intervention Response Team (CIRT) in coordination with BHD and other external partners and resources. See HCSO Policy 418 for further detail.
F. Post-Suicide Response: Suicide impacts units, coworkers, families, and friends, and offering support is critical to individual and unit resilience. Unit leaders manage post-suicide responses by implementing the HCSO Leader’s Post-Suicide and Suicide Attempt Checklist. This includes supporting affected personnel through the grieving process by consulting with Chaplains, Behavioral Health providers, and other resources as needed. In support of national efforts to promote the understanding and prevention of suicide in law enforcement, HCSO participates in the FBI’s Law Enforcement Suicide Data Collection Program.
G. Intra- and Inter-agency Coordination- HCSO BHD Director complies with:
1. HCSO’s Employee Wellness Committee (EWC) and Wellness Working Group (WWG) initiatives to help integrate, coordinate, and track the suicide prevention program activities outlined above (whether as standalone or as part of integrated wellness initiatives), to ensure initiatives are targeted, effective, and efficient.
2. National initiatives aimed at better understanding and preventing suicide among current and former LE employees, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Law Enforcement Suicide Data Collection (LESDC).
NOTE: see attachments
b. Emphasize the unnecessary nature of suicide and alternatives as readily available;
c. Express disappointment that the employee did not recognize that help was available;
d. Ensure the audience knows you and the HCSO want personnel to seek assistance when distressed, including those who are presently affected;
e. Encourage employees to be attuned to those who may be grieving or having a difficult time following the suicide, especially those close to the deceased; and
f. Provide a brief reminder of warning signs for suicide.
11. After the death announcement is made to coworkers, follow up your comments in an e-mail provided to the group or community affected. Restate the themes noted above.
12. Unless you discern there is a risk of being perceived as disingenuous, consider increasing senior leadership presence in the work area immediately following the announcement of death. Engage informally with personnel and communicate a message of support and information. Presence initially should be fairly intensive and then decrease over the next 30 days to a tempo you find appropriate.
13. Consult with Chaplain/Family Assistance regarding Unit-Sponsored Memorial Services. Memorial services are important opportunities to foster resilience by helping survivors understand, heal, and move forward in as healthy a manner as possible. However, any public communication after a suicide, including a memorial service, can either increase or decrease the suicide risk of those receiving the communication. It is important to have an appropriate balance between recognizing the employee’s service and expressing disappointment about the manner of death. If not conducted properly, a memorial service may lead to the admiration of the suicide event and thus potentially trigger “copycat” events. Therefore, memorial services should avoid idealizing the deceased or the current state of peace found through death. Avoid normalizing suicide by inferring it is an acceptable reaction/response to distressful situations. Make clear distinctions between positive accomplishments/qualities and the act of suicide. Focus on personal feelings and feelings of survivors. Express disappointment in the deceased’s decision and concern for survivors. Promote help-seeking and peer support. The goals are to:
a. Comfort the grieving;
b. Help survivors deal with guilt;
c. Help survivors with anger;
d. Encourage employees/family members to seek help;
e. Prevent “imitation” suicides.
14. Public memorials such as plaques, trees, or flags at half-mast may, in rare situations, encourage other at-risk people to attempt suicide in a desperate bid to obtain respect or admiration for themselves. Therefore, these types of memorials are not recommended.
15. Utilize or refer grieving coworkers or family members to Chaplains, BHD, EAP, community-based resources and Concerns of Police Survivors (COPS) for family members. If non-beneficiaries (i.e., extended family members) are struggling and asking for help, refer them to community-based services and/or discuss options with a BHD mental health provider.
16. Behavioral Health Division staff will accomplish the Law Enforcement Suicide Data Report required for all completed suicides. Ensure participation with reporting procedures, as requested.
17. Anniversaries of suicide (1 month, 6 months, 1 year, etc.) are periods of increased risk. Promote healthy behaviors and Peer Support during these periods.
Harris County Sheriff’s Office Leader’s Suicide Attempt Checklist
This checklist is designed to assist HCSO leaders to address suicide attempts by those under their supervision. An appropriate, supportive response to a suicide attempt can diminish the risk factors for another attempt.
A person who makes a suicide attempt may have either (1) been prevented from taking an action they intended to result in death; (2) not intended to die, but felt the need to demonstrate an attempt for others to know they are in pain; (3) been under the influence of drugs (including alcohol) which caused an impaired decision (often referred to as “impulsive”); and/or (4) been suffering from mental illness and highly impaired but did not die as a consequence of the suicide plan.
1. A suicide attempt requires formal Mental Health assessment and often results in hospitalization to stabilize the individual and ensure safety. Contact HCSO Behavioral Health Division (BHD) staff via the EDC to consult on safety planning and appropriate response and follow-up. Generally speaking:
a. If the crisis is current or ongoing, immediate recommendations will include response by Crisis Intervention Response Team (CIRT) for potential hospitalization, if this has not already occurred.
b. If the crisis has passed (for example, if an employee reveals a recent suicide attempt), recommendations will include appropriate methods for referral to supportive services which, depending upon situational factors, could include voluntary or mandatory referral routes.
2. Contact Command Staff and notify appropriate Chain of Command. Ensure notifications are kept to a shortlist of “need to know” and contain a minimum amount of information to convey the nature of the situation. Being appropriate with “need to know” helps avoid stigmatizing the employee’s return to a work center where many people know what happened.
3. In addition to BHD, consider consultation from Chaplains, Peer Support Coordinators, or other supportive resources. Staff can contact these resources after hours through the EDC.
4. If the employee is currently hospitalized, consider visiting them while they are in the hospital to communicate support. You should consult with BHD and your Chain of Command to consult on post-hospitalization safety planning, guidance on treatment options, and discuss advising the employee of such while they are still in the hospital.
5. Behavioral Health Division staff will accomplish the Law Enforcement Suicide Data Report required for all suicide attempts resulting in medical care, including mental health care.
A person who has experienced a crisis may find returning to work comforting (a sense of normalcy) or they may find it distressing. Work may need to be tailored to accommodate for medical/Mental Health follow-up appointments and assessing the capabilities of the person upon their return. The goal is to gradually return to full duties as appropriate.
1. Consult with BHD to ensure appropriate evaluative, treatment, and supportive approaches are in place, and to develop a plan to re-integrate the employee into the workplace.
2. A returning employee should not be treated as fragile or damaged. If they sense they are being “singled out” or treated differently in the presence of peers, it can damage the recovery process. Freely speak with the employee about being receptive to their thoughts on returning to work and how to avoid either their or your perception of “walking on eggshells.”
3. Ensure all members of the unit are aware that seeking Mental Health is a sign of strength and helps protect mission and family by improving personal functioning instead of having personal suffering
4. Never underestimate the power of the simple statement: “What can I do to be helpful to your recovery process?”
5. Engage family and support networks to increase support and surveillance of the employee. Encourage family and friends to reach out to the unit if they become concerned about the employee’s emotional state.
EDC maintains callout rosters for CIRT, as well as for the resources above.
April 26, 2022
January 12, 2023