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Reflecting on police suicide—and what we can do to prevent it


May 6, 2020

With 10 police suicides in and around New York City in 2019, the topic of suicide awareness and prevention is on the minds of many in the state. Twin brothers Philip and John Schoppmann worked together at the New York City Policy Department for a spell, and it was there where Philip got his start in one of his life’s passion, suicide prevention, after John got him to join the NYPD peer support group.

“The peer support team for the NYPD is constantly busy and it’s not necessarily because everybody who is a police officer has issues, it’s simply because with more than 30,000 police officers, you’re busy all the time,” Philip Schoppmann notes.

Schoppmann is one of those rare people who doesn’t find it hard to ask tough questions about suicide and dive into the “mucky muck” as he describes it, though he did struggle at first to find suitable training to give him the skills he needed. “I joined the NYPD peer support team and when I was on the helpline, I often had callers talk to me about suicide. I felt comfortable talking about suicide, but I don’t know that I had the skills yet to be effective, so I kept looking around for different trainings. I read books, attended seminars, and participated in different trainings. What I came across was the LivingWorks ASIST training. So I took it and thought it was wonderful.”

Schoppmann found so much value in LivingWorks ASIST, which teaches people to recognize someone’s thoughts of suicide and provide an intervention to keep them safe, that he became a registered trainer in the program himself. Schoppmann also got certified to train LivingWorks safeTALK, a shorter program focused on identifying those in need and connecting them to help. He has since provided over 130 trainings in these programs, training over 1,000 people to play a part in preventing suicide. Many of these trainings were done via the group Schoppmann co-created, Trainers United on Long Island for the Prevention of Suicide, or simply, the TULIPS.

The TULIPS train social workers, state employees, therapists, and first responders. Since the group’s inception, their combined efforts have resulted in thousands trained in suicide prevention and intervention skills in New York State and beyond. Schoppmann recalls the beginning of the TULIPS, “There were four of us—we’re passionate, we care, and we didn’t really wait for people to come to us—we recognized there were different needs in different places and we would reach out and would say, ‘Hey, we want to do this training for you.’” Now the TULIPS have grown from four to six trainers.

Philip Schoppmann during a training.

With the recent uptick in police suicides, many people are asking what went wrong and what can be done. Schoppmann notes, “I know from being a police officer and working with the peer support team and the NYPD that they have a great, a wonderful, peer support team, but it only works if you call it. So you wonder why those who suicide don’t call it.” Schoppmann went on to say, “I don’t know because I’m outside the department anyway, however, even if I was in the department, they keep that information private.” But if you’re looking for ways to make a difference to a police department, Schoppmann has this advice, “If there are LivingWorks instructors who want to help train first responders, but don’t have a relationship with a department, then make the connection or relationship occur. Go in and talk to whoever you need to talk to, especially with what’s going on in New York City—this is a perfect time to do it.”

“Departments want their personnel to have the best training, but scheduling and budgets sometimes make it hard. It works best if you don’t go in there with these grand goals, proposing to train every one of their recruits. You go in and offer to train their crisis intervention team or to train some of the supervisors who are looking out for the women and men underneath them. Let them know that you want to do a training for eight to 15 people, ask them if they think it is something that they can benefit from? Let them know that they can use it to help others as well as to look after their own people. A lot of times we’ve gotten some great feedback from some wonderful things that people have done after taking this training that we’ve provided, and that training never would have occurred if it wasn’t for us to take the initiative to go out and set it up. Take the time to reach out—they need it, and they know it.”

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