The purpose of this paper is to provide a review of law enforcement suicide research from 1997 to 2016.
The PRISMA systematic review methodology was implemented. A SCOPUS search identified a total of 97 documents. After applying all exclusion criteria, the results included a list of 44 articles in the review.
Overall, studies investigating law enforcement suicide rates show conflicting results, with some studies showing lower suicide rates among law enforcement, some showing higher rates, and some showing no difference to comparison populations. Recurring research themes were lack of an appropriate comparison group, and small statistical power, particularly for minority and female officers. Stressors related to suicide among police included lack of organizational support, traumatic events, shift work, stigma associated with asking for help, or problems associated with fitting in with the police culture. Problems associated with domestic relationships and alcohol use were commonly mentioned as precursors to suicide or as correlates of suicidal ideation and were hypothesized to arise from stressful working conditions.
Some limitations in law enforcement suicide research include the lack of theory, under-reporting of suicides, and guarded survey responses from police officers. Future directions in police suicide research include investigating etiological factors such as past adverse life and family experiences, social-ecological variation in suicide, or differences in suicide rates within the law enforcement occupation.
Police work, given chronic and traumatic stress, lack of support, danger, and close public scrutiny is a fertile occupation for increased suicide risk. Awareness of the scope of the problem and associated risk factors can help to initiate prevention programs.