(NewsNation) — Sometimes the only person who can get through to a cop in crisis is a person who’s stood in their shoes.
Police officers carry scenes in their heads that many people outside of law enforcement don’t understand, and constantly face a fear of not returning home to their families.
Established in 2005, a suicide helpline for law enforcement officials called Copline has spent years taking phone calls from police officers who are stressed by their jobs. What makes it different is the hotline is staffed entirely by retired police officers.
Copline operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and the retired officers taking the calls have been trained to offer a sympathetic ear from someone who has been in the field.
The lead trainer is the former director of the Los Angeles suicide prevention hotline, which is the oldest hotline of its kind in the United States.
Copline keeps two call takers on the lines at all times; right now they have almost 160 trained volunteers answering calls across the United States.
“They get 40 hours of active listening, crisis intervention, suicide prevention — it’s a pretty thorough model,” said Stephanie Samuels, a therapist and founder and director of Copline.
Copline’s work has become increasingly relevant as police deaths from gun violence are on the rise, with 64 deaths in 2022 — a 21% increase over the average number of deaths a decade ago. In the brief start to 2023, there have already been eight line-of-duty deaths, including a Milwaukee Police officer who was shot and killed by a robbery suspect on Tuesday.
Threats against their personal safety are a constant stressor for officers on the job, and suicide remains a persistent problem for departments.
But not every call that Copline gets is about suicidal intentions.
“We get anywhere between 3 and 400 hundred right now a month. And 95% of those calls are bad day calls,” Samuels said. “Officers that are dealing with societal unrest. Change in the atmosphere, change in the departments. Not being supported by administration, lack of leadership, issues at home, stressors with family.”
Samuels doesn’t view the helpline as a solution to the problems the person is facing but instead as a way for officers to know someone is listening.
“They just need to be heard. People truly need to be listened to and to be able to vent your frustrations without somebody giving you advice and judging you,” she said.
Copline doesn’t trace phones or dispatch rescue units and it’s not a suicide prevention line. But the group has vetted 1,200 clinicians across the country to whom they refer police officers.
To Samuels, the officers calling Copline are happy just to have someone to listen to them.
“I can’t tell you how often the response is, ‘I just needed somebody who understood. Thank you for listening.'”