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Wave of police suicides in France sparks alarm

Stephane de Sakutin, AFP | A police officer on patrol in Paris on December 1, 2017.

The number of police suicides in France this year has risen to 25, after two officers were confirmed dead over the weekend after apparently taking their own lives.

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“[We] have learned with alarm, sadness, but also great anger that yet another two officers have killed themselves,” the French police union, ALTERNATIVE Police CFDT, said in a statement on Sunday, April 7.

Few details have emerged so far about the victims. The first was identified as a 37-year-old woman who worked the night shift for a police station in the northwestern Paris suburb of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, according to Le Parisien newspaper. After failing to report for duty on Saturday evening, her colleagues launched a search. They tracked her phone near to her home in the town of Guainville, where she was found dead in her car from a self-inflicted gun wound.

The second was a 49-year-old named simply as Christophe, who was an officer at a local police station in the southeastern town of Alès. Christophe’s body was discovered on Sunday, a week after he went missing, regional newspaper Midi Libre reported.

The Information and Communication Service of the National Police (SCIoP) confirmed to FRANCE 24 on Monday that two officers were reported dead over the weekend, but specified they remained “suspected” suicides until further notice.

A police suicide every four days

If proven true, that would mean there has been an average of one police suicide every four days since January. The statistic is high in comparison with previous years, and has worried ALTERNATIVE Police CFDT and other unions.

Over the last decade, there have been an average of 44 law enforcement suicides a year in France, according to official data. That figure spiked in 2014, when at least 55 officers took their own lives. Just four months into 2019, there have already been nearly half that many deaths.

There is no clear underlying cause for the high rate of police suicides. A 2010 study by the National Health Institute for Medical Research (INSERM) found that a number of factors could lead to depression, including occupational hazards, family problems, health issues, addiction and financial strain.

Yet police unions have argued that the relentless pressures of the job are largely to blame.

“Even though there are multiple factors behind the reason for acting – between personal problems and complicated professional situations – there is undeniably a real strain on police who are confronted daily by social deprivation, hierarchical stress and successive operations without the possibility for regular rest,” the ALTERNATIVE Police CFDT statement said.

In an effort to tackle the issue, former interior minister Gérard Collomb launched a police suicide prevention programme in May 2018 that promised to provide greater support to at-risk officers.

The government’s efforts, however, have come under fierce criticism for failing to reduce the suicide rate.

“(We) have noticed, that beyond words, the concrete actions taken are not bold enough to stem the scourge of suicides,” the ALTERNATIVE Police CFDT statement said.

In March, the Committee for Workplace Health and Safety (CHSCT) also sounded the alarm over the situation.

“Operational overwork, professional exhaustion, injuries in the line of duty, psychosocial issues, suicides and attempted suicides! To use a medical term, the national police is in critical condition,” it said in a statement.

The police suicide rate in France is 36 percent higher than that for the general population, according to a 2018 senate report. On average, there are an estimated 14 suicides per 100,000 residents in the country each year.

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