MILWAUKEE — Family, friends and colleagues gathered Monday to share memories of former Milwaukee police officer Tom Kline. Friends of the 47-year-old officer say he took his own life a year ago after struggling with stress and depression.
National data shows more law enforcement officers have died by suicide than in the line of duty each of the past five years.
Since 2017, more than 20 Wisconsin officers have taken their own lives. Law enforcement leaders are hopeful that a new state law provides officers who are struggling with the help they need.
On any given day, law enforcement officers respond to incidents that stay with them for the rest of their lives. Former Milwaukee police officer Dale Bormann says he still struggles with things he saw on the job decades ago.
I can still picture every baby that has passed away or has been killed,” he said. " When I'm sleeping, I can picture them in my dreams. That's an image I'm never going to forget."
Since retiring from his post of leading Milwaukee’s police union, Bormann transitioned into a new role as the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Injured Law Enforcement Officers Resource Council. The organization was founded in 2014 to in part, provide confidential help to officers who are battling stress and mental illness.
“Up until recently, an officer just let that soak in and had to go out and take another assignment, let that soak in, and then just recently, officers are now starting to reach out and seeking help,” Bormann said.
A national organization called Blue H.E.L.P., which advocates for law enforcement mental health awareness, reports the country saw a record 239 officers die by suicide in 2019. While there was a decrease in 2020, nearly 100 officer suicides have been recorded this year.
Since 2017, eight members of Wisconsin law enforcement have been killed in the line of duty. During that same time period, 21 died by suicide according to the Wisconsin Law Enforcement Death Response Team.
“We will see as a state, more officers take their own life than die in the line of duty and we can work on preventing those,” said West Allis Police Chief Patrick Mitchell.
Chief Mitchell is the president of the Wisconsin Chiefs of Police Association. He helped lead the push for new legislation in Wisconsin to offer worker’s compensation to officers who have been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Governor Tony Evers signed it into law in April and it goes into effect October 1.
“It will provide medical treatment to help those officers and we know through past experiences if an officer can get proper treatment, proper therapy, their chances of recovering are extremely high, but untreated, they have a very difficult path to a normal life,” Chief Mitchell said.
Chief Mitchell says it’s a service that allows officers to step away from the stresses of their job for up to 32 weeks to focus on their mental health and treatment.