The Long Beach Police Department, like all police departments, has long had a mentality of stoicism when it comes to mental health issues.

Depression isn’t something officers talk about, said Police Chief Robert Luna. The chief is now hoping to change that culture.

“This isn’t an easy job,” Luna said. “There are things our employees see on a daily basis that other human beings shouldn’t see. In the past we’d say, ‘Just deal with it.’ Well that’s not working for us.”

After the suicide of a gang detective, the department last year decided to take action and launched a pilot mental health program for its staff with a San Bernardino-based center called Counseling Team International.

Luna said the pilot program was such a success, that the department in March signed a year-long contract with the center for $117,000. The contract is a first for Long Beach police and signals a cultural shift in urging officers to seek help for depression and other mental health issues.

The change in Long Beach comes amid nationwide concern over officer suicide rates. This year, the New York City Police Department declared a mental health emergency following a rash of suicides by police officers.

A study by the Boston-based Ruderman Family Foundation found that police officers are more likely to die by suicide than in the line of duty.

The suicide rate among police officers is about 16 per 100,000, compared to about 14 per 100,000 among the general population, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

The concern prompted President Donald Trump this year to sign a bill authorizing up to $7.5 million in grant funding annually for police suicide prevention efforts and training.

LBPD chief Robert Luna. Photo by Thomas Cordova.

Luna said the effort is long overdue.

“When it comes to PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), we’re recognizing that policing isn’t much different from the military,” he said.

Through the program with Counseling Team International, officers can seek not only individual counseling but family counseling as well. Staff will also receiving training on how to identity signs of mental health issues.

Luna said there’s still the challenge of convincing some officers to get help, but he’s already encouraged by the feedback.

“Some employees have come to me personally and said this has completely turned them around, not only at work but in their homes,” he said.

Luna said the department will consider renewing the contract next year.

“At the end of the day, our community members will benefit from having our officers being not only in tip top physical shape, but tip top mental shape,” he said.

—The Associated Press contributed to this report