Officers suicide rates are higher than the general population.

Bill promises officer families death benefits after suicide

Jarek Rutz Headlines, Government

Officers suicide rates are higher than the general population.

Officers suicide rates are higher than the general population.

A bill that establishes suicide as a line-of-duty death, allowing families of the deceased to receive receive benefits, passed the House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee Tuesday.

Delaware law now does not list suicide as a line-of-duty death that would enable an officer’s family to file for benefits.

House Bill 133, sponsored by Rep. Sherry Dorsey-Walker, D-Wilmington, makes clear that suicide is a death in the line of duty for Delaware’s first responders, police officers, firefighters, correctional officers, probation officers and the National Guard.

Suicide among safety officials

“Suicide is the second leading cause of death for public safety officials,” Dorsey-Walker said. 

Nationally, she said, in 2022, there were 143 suicides by law enforcement, after 160 suicides in 2021.

In November of 2022, nine law enforcement officials killed themselves nationally, and one, she said, was a Delawarean who lived in her district. 

“Suicide is 54% higher than the general public for law enforcement officials,” she said. “They have 70% chance of suicide after high stress incident without intervention, however, with intervention, that rate goes down to 3%.”

Dorsey-Walker told the committee that one in three correction officers have PTSD and depression.

“I did not know that that was the case, and it absolutely makes me emotional,” said Rep. Kendra Johnson, D-Bear. “You’re already dealing with such a traumatic loss and then you compound that with how you lost your loved one.”

The discussion pointed to resources that police officers have, including Delaware State Police’s  six and 10 free counseling sessions each year that officers may choose to attend for mental health support. 

Rep. Ruth Briggs King, R-Georgetown, pointed out that many officers don’t want to seek help or other treatments because it’s still stigmatized among certain communities. 

“Many of them are afraid that they’ll be taken off duty,” just for seeking help, she said. “So they suffer and they don’t seek the help.”

She said it’s important for the legislation to ensure that there’s resources available to line-of-duty officers and that it’s clear their careers won’t be impacted by taking advantage of help. 

HB 133 now heads to the House floor.

Also Tuesday, a bill that extends liability protections for foster children on their driver’s license learner’s permit, passed to the House.

Senate Bill 95, sponsored by Sen. Sarah McBride, D-Claymont, clarifies that during the initial six months of a learner’s permit, a foster parent is liable for the negligent driving of the foster child up to the limits of the foster parent’s applicable insurance coverage. 

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