The Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability (CCPSA) recently addressed the issue of police wellness, calling on a panel of persons with experience to address their public meeting. Topics ranged from poor working conditions to suicide,
Among the people sharing personal experience was Beverly/Morgan Park neighbor Erin Healy Ross who lost her brother and her father – both Chicago Police Officers – to suicide. 19th Ward Ald. Matt O’Shea, Chicago Police Superintendent Larry Snelling, CCPSA President Anthony Driver, and police officers were also among the panelists. According to CCPSA Director of Public Affairs Nicole Garcia, understanding the importance of the health and wellness of officers is a vital part of improving safety and policing in Chicago.
“The Commission’s role in this effort was to facilitate a dialogue between the police, subject matter experts, city leadership and the community to help bring about meaningful change that will advance officer wellness and public safety,” Garcia said. She added that each year, the Commission is required by law to establish goals and expectations for the Superintendent of Police, and it is currently working on a 2024 goal that addresses Officer Wellness and Morale.
Erin Ross began her compelling story with a powerful fact: The city of Chicago has one of the highest police suicide rates in the country. She knows the ramifications of that fact all too well.
“I am here tonight to ask the CCPSA, community members, CPD, the Mayor’s Office, and all other stakeholders in the city to make a commitment to work on this issue. Together we must find a way to balance the goal of keeping our city safe and making sure all residents feel supported by the police while also supporting the well-being of our officers.”
Ross’ father, John “Red” Healy, was a Chicago police officer who had followed in his father’s steps to join the force. Although he did not share many stories of his policing days with his family, Ross said they knew “he faced many devastating things during his time on the force.”
Ryan decided to follow in his grandfather’s and father’s footsteps and entered the police academy. He
wore the same badge number as his grandfather and my dad had – 9059.
Ross related that while on the job, her brother was sometimes overwhelmed by what he saw. “Like my dad, Ryan didn’t share many specific details with us,” she said. But he persevered. Ryan purchased a home in Beverly/Morgan Park, where he grew up and many family members still reside. Soon after, he threw a Super Bowl party; he was excited to off his house and spend time with friends he had known since childhood. That was 2013.
A few days after the party, Ross got a call from Ryan, who told her he “wasn’t feeling like himself.” “We talked for a while and I asked him if he wanted me to . . . come over but he insisted that wasn’t necessary. “I’ve replayed that [phone] conversation in my head thousands of times, but I hung up believing that Ryan was okay.”
Just a few hours later, Ross received an ominous text from Ryan and called 911.
“I knew Ryan had his gun in the house and I was terrified that he would use it,” she said. “I called my dad next and told him . . . that he needed to get to Ryan’s immediately.” Ryan only lived ten minutes away, but it was too late to save him.
“The worst part about suicide is you don’t have a ‘why.’ . . . Here was a young man working in a career he was proud of with a new and a bright future, yet something extinguished the light.”
Following his son’s suicide, John Hurley worked with police officers to film a piece explaining the devastation of suicide and imploring officers to not be afraid to ask for help.
“He was a quiet person [and] agreed to do it because he said if it saved even one family from experiencing the devastation we faced, then it would be worth it,” Ross said.
Red Healy retired from CPD after 27 years on the force,but was an active and involved retiree.
“My dad was an avid bike rider and his bike route included a daily stop at the cemetery to check on my brother’s grave,” Ross said. “We never could have suspected that he was also struggling, but on May 10 , my dad used his gun to shoot himself in the basement of our family home.”
“Again, you see me trying to find a ‘why,’ but we simply don’t know,” Ross continued.
As difficult as it was for Ross to share her story in a public forum, she knows that her family’s experience can shine a light on the importance of providing better support the mental well-being of police officers. Her activism with CCPSA was set in motion when she wrote a heartfelt letter to the editor of the Chicago Tribune highlighting the desperate need more mental health services for police and the profound impact suicide has on the people who have been left behind. The letter triggered media attention on the subject. Currently, Ross is working with the Chicago Police Memorial Foundation memorial for officers who have died by their own hands.
For more information on the work of the CCPSA search Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability at chicago.gov/city.