It's Thalen's Turn column: Pandora's box of police officer suicide

The following is an opinion column written by an Echo Press editorial staff member. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the Echo Press.

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Thalen Zimmerman, right, poses next to his father, Trevor Zimmerman, after Trevor graduated from Alexandria Technical and Community College's law enforcement program.
Contributed photo / Trevor Zimmerman

Last month, The Minnesota State Court of Appeals sided with a woman fighting to get police officer suicide eligible for “killed in the line of duty” benefits, which would be paid to surviving spouses and children of the officer.

Cindy Lannon was told that the "killed in the line of duty" benefits would not be available after her husband, Jerry Lannon, a Washington County sheriff’s deputy, died by suicide in 2018. The Minnesota Department of Public Safety said it does not qualify as a death in the line of duty because it was not duty-related, according to a Forum News Service article.

Cindy Lannon says her husband's suicide was a result of his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from his time in law enforcement. The article went on to say she requested a contested case proceeding, which went before an administrative law judge, who ended up siding with the public safety department. The judge in the case said PTSD and depression are not, themselves, fatal conditions.

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Thalen Zimmerman, left, and his dad Trevor Zimmerman pose with a funny face for a selfie during a ride-along.
Thalen Zimmerman / Alexandria Echo Press

My father has made his career out of being a police officer. I know stories of the calls he's been on. Not all the details but enough to know the scenes were probably traumatic. I've personally been on numerous ride-alongs with him and was told to wait in the car on occasions because he didn't know what he was walking into. I've watched his cautious movements as he walks up to a pulled-over vehicle, not knowing if they will be a threat or not. I've seen him frustrated over money. I've heard his worries about providing a supportive life for my sisters and I.
I've seen the stresses the job offers. I've seen it in my dad. And I disagree with the court of appeals decision.

According to Suicide Prevention Resource Center, protective services — which includes police officers — is ranked fifth for occupations with the highest suicide rates.


I understand why someone would advocate for the benefits if their police officer spouse or parent died by suicide. I understand the argument that it was the stress and trauma of the job that pushed them to it. But I worry the solution may result in unintended consequences. An incentive to commit suicide.

Someone contemplating suicide tends to weigh out the "why they should" and "why they shouldn'ts." One of the "why they shouldn'ts" is usually how it might affect the ones they would be leaving behind. Thoughts of "how will they move on without me" and "how will they pay the bills" rattle in their heads. Sometimes thoughts like those are enough to keep a person fighting through their mental struggles.

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Thalen Zimmerman, right, rides along with his dad in his squad car during his shift on Father's Day.
Thalen Zimmerman / Alexandria Echo Press

Under Minnesota's Public Safety Officers Death Benefits, families of officers killed in the line of duty may be eligible for a one-time monetary payout, educational benefits and continued health coverage covered by the State of Minnesota’s Public Safety Officer’s Benefit Account.

When you have a person working in one of the top five occupations of suicide, suffering from not just work stress but the day-to-day stress, with a firearm in easy access and the peace of mind knowing their family could receive the benefits listed above, it adds more to the "why the should" list.

The problem needs to be addressed rather than covered with Band-aids. What the state should be doing is funding programs for officers' mental health. To help while they are still here rather than when they are gone.

I am more than thankful my father is still here today but I do worry about him. Being a police officer is a dangerous job and the men and women who put themselves in the position to protect others should be taken care of.

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, dial 988. Help is really just a phone call away.

Thalen Zimmerman of Alexandria joined the Echo Press team as a full-time reporter in Aug. 2021, after graduating from Bemidji State University with a bachelor of science degree in mass communication in May of 2021.
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