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Death of troubled officer whose gun wasn't taken away marks record number of suicides in NYPD

A New York police officer's recent death has disturbingly highlighted the record number of suicides among members of the New York Police Department this year, according to the New York Times.

On Aug. 14, Robert Echeverria, 56, shot himself at his home in Laurelton, Queens, and died at a nearby hospital. When detectives arrived at his sister's home to break the news, she had already suspected the worst, she told the newspaper.

"I begged you to get him help," Eileen Echeverria recalled telling authorities. "I didn’t just ask. I sobbed, please. I knew this was the end."

Robert, who grew up on Long Island dreaming of being a cop, had reportedly suffered from mental health issues — including possible depression — before turning the gun on himself last month. He joined the department when he was 31 and had patrolled parts of Brooklyn, Eileen said.

During his time in the department, Robert would ramble about unexplained bruises and body scratches and share stories about being bullied by colleagues, his sister added. He also allegedly confided in Eileen about his marital problems, stress at work and financial struggles. 

Eileen said that, following those conversations, she relayed her concerns to a police supervisor and a department therapist in June. Later that month, the department purportedly asked Robert to turn in his gun but returned it to him shortly after. Eileen said she begged Internal Affairs Bureau officials to reconsider, but they apparently ignored her. 

Robert's death marks the ninth officer suicide in New York City this year — a record for the New York Police Department. Since 2014, the city has seen an average of five officer suicides per year, a number higher than that of Chicago, Los Angeles and Houston, where therapists are more accessible to troubled cops.

"We have allowed this to fester for too long," said Donovan Richard, a New York City councilman who has sponsored a new bill that would instruct the police department to connect such officers with therapists and peer support groups. That bill is expected to pass soon, according to the Times.

In a separate interview, Jim Pasco, an executive director with the National Fraternal Order of Police, explained to the publication that members of law enforcement are more prone than civilians to commit suicide because of access to firearms, job stress and pressure from their peers to hide their emotions.

Cops are also less likely to see a therapist due to concerns over losing their assignments and service weapons, added Tom Coghlan, a retired detective who has since founded a counseling group for police officers.

"They feel it would hurt their careers," he said. "You take away what makes them a cop. They are the ones who run to help others."

Regardless, more needs to be done, Eileen said.

"Something has to change," she said a day after her brother's funeral. "How many more police officers have to die?"

Learn about the warning signs of suicide. If you or a loved one is struggling, help is available through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.