Chicago police officer suicide rate 60-percent higher than other departments

In a FOX 32 special report: a hidden battle behind the badge.

The tragic trend of police suicides is hitting home in Chicago, with officers taking their own lives at alarming rates.

FOX 32’s Elizabeth Matthews explains why the numbers are higher here than anywhere else.

“He wanted to help everybody, he wanted to help the world, not only certain people. He started noticing, after high school, how bad the world is, and his mission in life was to fix it,” said Ark Maciaszek.

Ark describes his cousin Scott Tracz as loud and passionate, with a big heart. Scott served as a Chicago police officer, working in some of the city's toughest neighborhoods.

“Once he got on it, this guy was 100 percent devoted to it. He said this is it. This is what I want to do. This is how I'm going to fix this,” Ark said.

But at age 30, the job began to take its toll on Scott, and Ark began asking questions.

“I wanted more details so I started asking him, and he would never tell me. He said - this is not the right time, this is not the right time to talk,” Ark said.

Ark says his cousin became quiet and distant.

“He'd seen some bad things happening to good people. He couldn't understand why,” Ark said. “He would never mention the word suicide, or harming himself. That's not Scott.”

But on December 27th, 2016 - his family's worst fears were realized.

“The first thing was basically my mom calling me, screaming yelling, crying, couldn't understand a word she was saying. Scott is dead. Scott is dead. Scotty is not alive anymore. Mom, what are you talking about? Calm down, calm down. Impossible,” Ark said.

Scott's death exemplifies a tragic trend in law enforcement. In just the last 3 months, three CPD officers have taken their lives -- two at the Fifth Police District on the Far South Side.

“We're not robots,” said Brian Warner.

Brian was a Chicago police officer for nearly 20 years.

“The amount of trauma we see, the thousands of people that are shot every year in Chicago, we see it,” Brian said.

He says that trauma on top of a stigma against mental illness means some officers aren't coping with the stress in healthy ways.

“That's probably the biggest hurdle we have in law enforcement, is officers asking for help. They're afraid, one, that somebody's going to think that they're weak, that they need help,” Brian said.

A department of justice investigation concluded high levels of unaddressed stress in the Chicago Police Department can compromise officers well-being, demeanor, and judgment.

And officer suicide rates here are 60 percent higher than anywhere else in the country. Brian says that's because of a perfect storm - combining a lack of resources - with the violence they see - and the fear officers feel. Being judged - or fired - if they do ask for help.

“We can certainly reduce that number, I'm certain of that, if we put the resources in place, and give the officers the confidence to use those resources,” Brian said.

“It's a very unfortunate situation where people choose to take a permanent solution to a temporary problem,” said Kevin Graham.

President of the Fraternal Order of Police, Kevin Graham, says police chaplains help officers every day. Plus, an employee assistance program with counselors on staff gives officers mental health support. 

“We need to improve on it though. It is undermanned. We have less than half the clinicians Los Angeles has for a smaller department. They are planning to hire more, and they have hired at least one more, but it's not enough,” Kevin said.

“There's got to be a way - something has to be done,” Ark said. “His ambition was to be the best cop in the world. And in his mind, he was. And in my mind, he was.”