SAN ANTONIO — San Antonio Police Chief William McManus addressed the palpable sorrow at a Friday morning prayer gathering directly, sharing details about the loss of a five-year veteran officer Thursday night who was just 30 years old.
“I know that everyone here knows what happened last night,” McManus said, adding “We lost another officer to suicide.”
A spokesman for the department confirms the loss is at least the fifth to suicide in the last seven months. The spokesman said four of the five were still active duty officers, while the fifth had retired two weeks before he died.
While calming instrumental music floated around the crowd, members of the faith community were gathered at Public Safety Headquarters for a previously planned event, “Faith and Blue.”
The peaceful mood was in stark contrast to the inner turmoil felt by many in attendance.
While the multi-faith service had been planned in advance, the need for faith in the face of adversity was heavy on the hearts of most.
“The sadder part about this is that he was receiving help that he needed,” McManus said, adding that the officer was on the phone with another veteran officer who was desperately trying to get to him and help him.
The frantic effort to save officer ended in a parking lot in Helotes around 9 p.m.
By air and by ground, officers from SAPD, the sheriff's office and Helotes tracked the officer's phone, but by the time they found him, he was fatally wounded.
“We are really, really concerned about what is happening within our ranks, with police officers wanting to hurt themselves, and ultimately committing suicide,” McManus said.
The prayer event offered a chance for those who honor the sacred in a variety of ways to put aside their differences and stand together, lifting each other up in what is an increasingly difficult calling.
McManus said being surrounded by support of so many like-minded souls, strengthens his commitment to building a better department.
"We have to look out and see what more we can do to make it even easier for officers to ask for help," McManus said, adding he is committed to finding solutions.
"The take away for me right now, and what's on my heart is, what more can we do and what did we miss? That's what is eating at me and many others as well."
A spokesman said the SAPD personnel who have died by suicide this year include officers with between six and 28 years of experience on the force. :
Following another officer suicide in September, McManus said he and his command staff re-doubled their efforts to make changes.
“We met that next morning. We have a committee formed with a number of ideas about how to improve what we do to help officers who may be in crisis,” McManus said. “In policing, officers are afraid because they may lose their weapon. They may lose their assignment. They're afraid of that happening. It doesn't happen but they're afraid of that anyway.”
Outlining some of the resources officers have at their disposal, McManus said “We have a psychologist on staff. We have a peer group. We have what we call our officer concern program that will ultimately put an officer in whatever program they need.”
But fear persists, McManus said.
“They think, ‘I may lose my job over this,’ so they stay quiet and then problems continue to build and now we see what ultimately could happen so the biggest key is catching issues early.”
McManus said they will continue to look for better answers, looking at other agencies that may have developed programs that SAPD has yet to try.
“Whatever the issues are, it is incumbent upon us that if there is a change in the officer’s behavior, we need to pick that up, and figure out what's going on and provide some assistance that the officer might need, McManus said.
In the meantime, services for the officer who most recently took his life have not been announced.
There is a helpline available for any law enforcement officer who would like to have free, confidential assistance from a national non-profit. Copline is staffed entirely by retired law enforcement officers.