NJ — It was standing-room only at Cop2Cop's 12th anniversary celebration, during which the peer support program honored correction officers from across the state for contributions that dramatically affected the lives of those in the New Jersey law enforcement community: Commissioner Gary Lanigan, State Department of Corrections; Director John Cunningham and Sgt. Guy Cirullo, State Department of Corrections Sea Girt Academy; and Ken Burkert, Union County Corrections Officer/New Jersey State Police Benevolent Association.
Also honored were two retired police officers who now serve as Cop2Cop peer counselors: Fred Mitchell and Joseph Orgo were given special recognition for their service to the Cop2Cop program. During the ceremony, Mark Farsi, Deputy Commissioner, New Jersey Department of Corrections, who accepted the award on behalf of Commissioner Lanigan, spoke about Cop2Cop's value to the corrections community.
Since its inception in 2000, Cop2Cop has managed more than 40,000 calls and averted at least 191 potential suicides. In addition, Cop2Cop, which has evolved from its origins as a 24/7 helpline to also include a variety of support and training programs, has trained more than 15,000 New Jersey law enforcement officers in suicide prevention and gained recognition within New Jersey and beyond as a "best practice" to help struggling officers in law enforcement. Over time, those efforts have also come to include important services for corrections officers.
"The work of the Governor's Task Force on Police Suicide in 2008 revealed that New Jersey corrections officers had significantly higher rates of suicide than other types of law enforcement," said Cop2Cop Director Cherie Castellano.
"This insight allowed us the opportunity to target the New Jersey Department of Corrections with a customized suicide prevention course, which was subsequently given to 4,000 corrections officers in our state. This QPR [question, persuade, refer] Project teaches officers a 'buddy system' in which they can identify suicide warning signs in fellow officers.
"Although the number of police suicides in our state remains a concern, the number of corrections officers who completed suicides was significantly diminished this year. Today, we honored leaders in corrections who have shown a commitment to suicide prevention training for corrections officers."
Piscataway-based Cop2Cop, which is managed by the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey-University Behavioral HealthCare (UBHC) in partnership with the New Jersey Department of Human Services, remains the United States' only legislated statewide police crisis intervention helpline, and it is the only law enforcement helpline in the country that is certified by the American Association of Suicidology.
Castellano noted that the program's growth is a result of the dedication and commitment of its staff and partner organizations across the state. "What we do at Cop2Cop - encourage resiliency, combat stigma and prevent suicide among law enforcement officers - is an enormous emotional challenge every day," she said.
"Cop2Cop works because our staff is driven by striving to avoid the terrible consequences that would follow if we do not succeed. It works because each of us has brought a unique skill or expertise to the team that has allowed us to grow in a number of directions. It works because our law enforcement partner organizations statewide are committed and motivated to getting the assistance and the support to make their ranks stronger, healthier and better informed. These are amazing people who have achieved amazing results."
Castellano cited the significant contributions of the following organizations in influencing the evolution of Cop2Cop: New Jersey Department of Corrections; New Jersey State Police Benevolent Association; New Jersey Fraternal Order of Police; National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE); and the New Jersey State Police.