In the last 20 years, the number of deaths by suicide has grown 33%. Between January and April of 2022, there have been 26 suicide threats, 14 suicide attempts, 12 overdoses and three successful suicides in the City of Franklin. While 911 operators are not equipped to deal with mental health crises, police have become the agency of last resort. Psychological emergencies have become the number one reason police are being called.
“Law enforcement is on the edge of a mental health crisis,” said Franklin Chief of Police Deborah Faulkner. “And the pandemic didn’t help a damn bit!”
At a recent panel discussion on mental health coordinated by Franklin Tomorrow, Chief Faulkner went on to say that the department got three suicide threat calls one recent Friday night, and another two the next day. One of these calls began as a domestic situation, but in the end, a participant in the dispute ended up saying he didn’t want to live any longer as he had nothing to live for. The police officers were able, luckily, to use de-escalation techniques that they had learned in recent training and to get him the help he needed.
So far this year, the youngest to threaten suicide was 19 and the oldest 82, while last year that range was between age 8 and 92.
Suicide is not a new issue, Chief Faulkner explained. She recently saw records kept by Sheriff Fleming Williams between September 1970 and September 1973 that showed there were 141 suicides. She feels that people are just more open and accepting to talk about it, still Chief Faulkner says that it is a tough topic.
She explained that after every such event, the officers involved have what she calls a “critical incident debriefing.” These debriefings allow participating officers to talk about what occurred and process what they just experienced. Being a police officer is highly stressful, and Faulkner has created peer support groups to offer support and guidance to officers and their families dealing with their own issues created by the stress of the work.
There are many different nationalities in the area, and there are language and educational barriers in some places. Also, there are many new people moving to the area who do not have family here and do not know where to go to get help.
To help officers, the Franklin Police Department has invested in important training in handling situations where someone is threatening suicide, as well as how to handle their everyday stresses.
“It is my job to protect those who protect us,” said Chief Faulkner.
The stress of the job is intense, especially with the added civil unrest that has arisen due to the pandemic. Police are not immune to the desire to self-terminate. In 2021, 62 police were killed in the line of duty in the United States, but 157 died by their own hand.
Franklin Mayor Ken Moore and Chief Faulkner have worked together to help educate the community about suicide prevention and mental health resources. One of these resources is Find Hope Franklin and another is the United Way’s 211 Help Line.
Chief Faulkner was Tennessee’s first Inspector General prior to joining the Franklin Police Department in 2014, and a retired Metropolitan Nashville Police Officer with more than 30 years of experience, including as Deputy Chief. She has a Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Memphis, her master’s in Criminal Justice from Middle Tennessee State University, and a doctorate in Human Development Counseling from Vanderbilt University.