Mayor de Blasio and police union boss Pat Lynch made emotionally-charged pleas to NYPD cops on Thursday as the department reels from nine officer suicides — but neither offered concrete policy solutions.
Hizzoner made it personal, sharing his experience of his father’s suicide in a letter to more than 30,000 rank-and-file cops in a bid to encourage them to get help if they need it.
“When I was 18, my dad took his own life,” he wrote in the missive dated Wednesday. “I want to tell you about him today in the hopes that it might help you or someone you care about.
“There is no feeling worse than wanting to help someone and not knowing how,” he continues.
“No matter how strong or tough you are, or how difficult it may be to accept, you always deserve help when you need it. The City of New York supports you.”
Lynch, who heads the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, took a brusque tone, blaring in a Thursday statement, “If you’re on the edge and contemplating suicide, don’t f--king do it!”
“It solves nothing and leaves devastation behind you,” he says in a scolding Twitter video. “Good friends both on and off the job will feel betrayed and abandoned by you.”
The mayor — who has made mental health one of his administration’s top priorities — was vague on the city’s response to the suicides, saying Thursday, "There are things we’re going to be doing right now… things that will happen in the next days.”
He indicated he had been unaware of obstacles to mental health treatment for police officers.
De Blasio said some mental health care providers have refused to accept cops’ insurance, adding that it was “an issue that I had not heard previously.”
He vowed “to make sure there are more mental health providers who will take that city health insurance. That’s something that we think we can resolve in a matter of days.”
De Blasio also emphasized there is no penalty for officers who use medication for mental health issues.
“The police department will have a clearer policy going forward on medications,” he told reporters at an unrelated press conference in Brooklyn. “One of the challenges is misinformation.
“A lot of officers got the impression that if you’re on a medication to address a mental health issue, that somehow that could compromise your ability to serve as an officer,” Hizzoner continued. “That is not true. There are a variety of medications that's perfectly appropriate to take if you're a police officer.”
NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill on Thursday announced a forthcoming smartphone app for cops that “will give you everything you need to know where help is and, most importantly, what the signs of suicide are.” He also said the city is partnering with an unnamed medical facility that will give cops mental health appointments in person or over the phone within 24 hours of being contacted.
During the press conference, and in the letter, de Blaso pointed officers to his administration’s ThriveNYC mental health initiative. It has come under fire for disorganization and limited results in spite of its massive budget since its 2015 launch under the leadership of First Lady Chirlane McCray. This year’s city budget slashed $20 million from the flailing program following intense criticism from lawmakers.
“Anybody in New York, for themselves or a loved one, can call 888-NYC-WELL,” a hotline provided by ThriveNYC, de Blasio said.
Members of the NYPD brass were silent about the mayor’s outreach. But Lynch slammed “the politicians proclaiming this is a crisis.”
“Just stop,” he declared in his video. “We’ve been very clear on what we need: Provide mental health benefits that will cover the high professional treatment we need and accommodate us when we are in crisis.
“Stop destroying the careers of cops who reach out for help.”
He appeared to take an extra swipe at his nemesis the mayor and ThriveNYC, though he did not mention either by name.
“You think that a few tweets and mental health posters will make up for it?” Lynch said. “Well, it won’t.”
In his Wednesday letter, de Blasio presented his late father as an example whom police officers can relate to.
The mayor said after World War II, his father Warren Wilhelm struggled with “depression, alcoholism, and PTSD.”
“He came home a decorated war hero. He was always tough and physically strong, even on one good leg. But that wasn’t the kind of strength he needed,” de Blasio wrote.
The mayor’s missive came the same day NYPD veteran Robert Echeverria, 56, fatally shot himself in his Queens home, and just a day after another officer, Johnny Rios, 35, died of suicide.
De Blasio has regularly discussed his father’s 1979 death since his first campaign for mayor, in 2013.
“One in five Americans experiences a mental health challenge,” Hizzoner said Thursday on NPR. “Each family is affected. In my family, it was my dad.”