Bridgeport cop suicide brings focus on first responder death back to forefront
Updated 9:11 pm, Tuesday, December 5, 2017
BRIDGEPORT — The veteran city police officer who was found dead Monday in Seaside Park from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head has brought the seriousness of the loss of first responders back to the forefront.
In September, Danbury police officer Drew Carlson died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. In November, Naugatuck police officer Robert Byrne died unexpectedly in his Seymour home. There was no clear report on his manner or cause of death.
Bridgeport Police officer Thomas Lattanzio, who was on the force 17 years, was found Monday morning in the park. Police did not discuss a motive in his death, which the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner ruled a suicide.
“Policing is a highly stressful job,” said Police Chief Armando Perez. “This is a challenging time and place to be a police officer. At the end of the day, our officers are tough, dedicated and well-trained, but we are also human beings.”
Lattanzio, who was named in two civil rights cases — one in 2011 and one from late October — was on paid administrative leave at the time of his death, in part because of the most recent lawsuit.
“As a general rule, officers surrender their badge, service weapon and ID when they are placed on administrative status,” Perez said.
News of the suicide rocked the police department, with more than 20 patrol cars and unmarked vehicles responding to the scene after the call that confirmed it was a Bridgeport police officer.
The state hotline — 211— is always available for someone in crisis to call. There is also the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-8255, and the national Crisis Text Line, 741741.
The Fairfield County Trauma Recovery Network — which was formed in the wake of the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting that killed 20 children and six adults — is a nearby option for officers.
Recovery network services allows first responders to submit a request for therapy form online (https://fctrn.com/form/). The evaluations are in-person and free of charge for “critical incident/tragedy or community man-made or natural disaster.”
Those looking to speak with other first responders about their experiences and feelings can reach out to The Lenape Valley Foundation crisis center in Bucks County, Pa.
The foundation has a 24-hour hotline staffed with police, firefighters and EMTs who will take calls from Bridgeport, or anywhere else, organizers told Hearst Connecticut Media.
Police officers can call 267-893-5200; all other first responders can call 267-893-5400.
Perez said he could not comment on the details of the death, including who found Lattanzio, since there was still an open investigation.
Police officers, firefighters, correctional officers and others employed in protective services were ranked sixth on a list of the top 20 professions with the most suicides, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Protection’s 2016 occupational suicide list.
Police Union President Chuck Paris said counseling was available, beginning Monday, to officers through the employee assistance program. He said there were also peer counselors provided from different departments.
New Haven, Norwalk, Newtown and Stamford police departments volunteered their resources Monday, Perez said.
“We are grieving as a family with support from our friends and our community,” Perez said. “We are providing peer support teams from (the Bridgeport Police) Department, neighbors departments and outside resources.”
But the police department is working to do more proactively, administrators said.
“I know the department is working on setting up a peer counseling program,” Paris said.
Those within the department who need to speak about their concerns and feelings to professionals always have that option, he said.
“The EAP is readily available at any time,” Paris said. “If they reach out to the EAP themselves, the department ... doesn’t get notice that they’ve spoken with them. That’s the main available procedure provided.”
Perez said the EAP provides ongoing mental health check-ins for the department. He said the department encourages officers needing help to speak to someone.
“Our entire leadership team has been clear with all of our officers: Talk to someone if you are having trouble coping with anything,” Perez said. “Do not bottle this up. We are here for you.”