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Police Officer Suicide:

NSW Police Force.

1999 to 2005
Stephen W. Barron

Stephen Barron, PsychLaw Conferen

ce - 2007.

Research Goals:

To investigate suicide by NSW Police

Officers using a Psychological
Autopsy Protocol.

Identify the key psychological, social

and occupational factors associated
with police officer suicide.

Stephen Barron, PsychLaw


Psychiatric Illness





Severe Medical

Access To Weapons

Family History

Psychological Vulnerability

Life Stressors


Stephen Barron, PsychLaw

Recent severe, stressful life events associated with suicide in
vulnerable individuals (Moscicki 1997).
Stressors include interpersonal loss or conflict, economic
problems, legal problems, and moving (Brent et al 1993b,
Lesage et al 1994, Rich et al 1998a, Moscicki 1997).
High risk stressor: humiliating events, e.g., financial ruin
associated with scandal, being arrested or being fired
(Hirschfeld and Davidson 1988) can lead to impulsive
Identify stressor in context of personality strength,
vulnerabilities, illness, and support system.
All studies are reviews
Stephen Barron, PsychLaw

Children in the home, except among those with
postpartum psychosis
Deterrent religious beliefs
Life satisfaction
Reality testing ability
Positive coping skills
Positive social support
Positive therapeutic relationship
Stephen Barron, PsychLaw

The Psychological Autopsy


An investigative technique where the

aim is to gather enough information
about the circumstances of a persons
death (suicide) to gain an
understanding of the reasons for that
death (suicide),
Hawton et al (1998)
Stephen Barron, PsychLaw

Psychological Autopsy

Method is speculative, probabilistic

and results in a professional opinion
regarding the causes and events which
may have contributed to the decision
to suicide.

Present protocol was adapted from De

Leo & Evans (2002) study of suicide in
Stephen Barron, PsychLaw


Comprehensive review of all deaths

reported to the NSW Coroner of Police
Officers 1999 to May 2005.

Mortality rate of serving police officers

was 190 deaths (NSW Police HR data)
within the sampled years, with

103 deaths reported to the NSW Coroner.

Stephen Barron, PsychLaw

NSW Police Mortality

Heart Disease 10 deaths,

Accidents 8 deaths,
Motor Vehicle collisions 11 deaths,
Homicide 8 deaths,
Alcohol related abuse 2 deaths,
Suicide 35 deaths,
Other causes 25 deaths,
Unknown causes 4 deaths.
Stephen Barron, PsychLaw

NSW Police Mortality contd

9 deaths of police officers whilst on


4 traveling in police vehicles,

3 firearm related wounds, and
2 officers stabbed.
Overall: 4.7% of all deaths are on duty,
Suicide rate accounts for 18% of all NSW
police officer deaths.
Stephen Barron, PsychLaw

Suicide Rate comparison.

NSW (2005) suicide rate 11.5 per

100,000 (gen. popn.)

NSW Police (2005) suicide rate of 20.7

per 100,000.

U.S. best guestimate 18 per 100,000

(Aamodt & Werlick, 1999)
Stephen Barron, PsychLaw

Suicide Frequency (1999-2005)

Stephen Barron, PsychLaw

Demographic Data.

Males 32:
Females 2
Mean age: 35 years,
Marital status:
Married: 40%
De facto: 11.5%
Divorced: 3%

Stephen Barron, PsychLaw

Demographic data contd.

Religious affiliation:
Catholic 74%
Anglican, Church of England 17%
(1995 study of police recruits 35% C of E
and 36% Roman Catholic).

Stephen Barron, PsychLaw

Demographic data contd.

Location 47% at home: 20% at a

police station,
Years of service 34% with less than
12 months service (average), and
51% with less then 10 years of years
of service,
57 % of officers committed suicide
had children.
Stephen Barron, PsychLaw

Occupational Stressors.

Performance/adjustment issues 31%,

Problematic work relationships 17%,
Under investigation 22%
(underestimate: since internal
complaint figures were not available),
Work related trauma 8.5%.

Stephen Barron, PsychLaw

Method of Suicide.

Hanging -


Firearm -


Drug overdose -


Motor Vehicle exhaust -

Other -


Stephen Barron, PsychLaw

Suicide Communication.

Overall: 43% communicated suicide

intent with other persons, including
family, friends and work colleagues.

38% of officers who committed

suicide left a suicide note.

Stephen Barron, PsychLaw

Contact with Medical Practitioners

prior to death.

Visited their G.Ps within 1 day 3

months prior to death 34%,

Visited mental health professional

within 12 months of their death 40%,

Taking medications at time of death

40% (anti-depressants most common).
Stephen Barron, PsychLaw

Presence of Mental Illness at time

of death.

Overall: 77% of deceased officers

indicated some evidence of mental
Of these:
Depressive Disorders
Personality Disorders
Anxiety - 14%,
Schizophrenia - 6%,


No indications - 23%.
Stephen Barron, PsychLaw

Other Results.

Acute events 40% of deaths,

Binge or heavy alcohol use 30%,
Smokers 66%,
Referred by NSW Police for intervention
Presence of negative life events 63%,
Presence of trigger event 20%,
Relationship bdown within 12 months
Stephen Barron, PsychLaw

Officer Suicide Risk Profile.


Personal - male, about 35 years of age,

married, catholic, residing at home with
spouse/partner and children, smoker.

Social moderate to heavy drinker, affected by

alcohol at death, access to firearm,
communicated intention to family or work
colleague, relationship breakdown within 12
months and increased negative life events
within 3 months of death.
Stephen Barron, PsychLaw

Risk Profile contd.

Characteristics Contd:

Occupational less than 10 years of service,

currently under investigation for work related
incident or performance issue, referred for
workplace support/assessment, whose work related
problems are known by colleagues and/or

Psychological recent history of mental illness

(usually depression), taking prescribed medication,
no previous history or suicide, no previous attempts,
visited medical practitioner 3 months prior to death.
Stephen Barron, PsychLaw

Healthy Worker bias effect.

(Carpenter, 1987).

Form of positive selection bias

regarded as occupational protective
factors re suicide risk:

Pre-recruitment and selection screening,

including multi-level selection processes,
Cohesiveness of the organisation,
Medical and mental illness support,
Perceived meaningfulness of employment.
(Violanti, 1996; Hourani et al, 1999; Miller,
2000; Agerbo, 2005).
Stephen Barron, PsychLaw


When we consider the Healthy Worker

effect, excluding the unemployed,
mentally ill, elderly, young and adolescent
risk takers, drug and alcohol abusers,
people with no access to support:-

For police we might then expect a lower

than general population average for
suicide or does the availability of
firearms explain the difference?
Stephen Barron, PsychLaw



Stephen Barron, PsychLaw