By Franklin Cook
In introducing "Suicide Loss First Aid: How Police Officers Can Assist Suicide Survivors" in The Police Chief magazine, Tony Salvatore of Montgomery County Emergency Service in Norristown, Penn., points out that more than three-fourths of suicides documented in a 2011 report "occurred in or near the victim's residence." He concludes:
This means that most suicide victims are found by family members or may have had family members who witnessed the death. Relating to those who were close to the victim of a suicide may be one of the most challenging duties that any officer faces, yet few officers receive any training for this task.The article focuses on the knowledge and skills necessary for law enforcement officers to respond effectively to a scene, covering topics such as the immediate needs of suicide loss survivors, principles of basic suicide postvention (support in the aftermath of a suicide), and a number of other vital considerations.
Salvatore has been writing about the role of first responders in supporting the suicide bereaved for some time (see my 2010 blog post highlighting his work, bit.ly/suicideems), and I hope that the recent publication of national guidelines for effective response to a suicide fatality sparks interest in formal efforts to further develop protocols for first responders. Salvatore has documented the dire need for such protocols, and there are models available that may provide a starting place, such as a guide developed in Canada and guidelines from a police department in England.