How a new state law tackles rise in law enforcement suicides

  • Buffalo Grove Police Chief Steven Casstevens, a leading voice in the national effort to reduce suicides among police officers, is encouraged by a new state law that allows first responders to seek mental health care confidentially.

    Buffalo Grove Police Chief Steven Casstevens, a leading voice in the national effort to reduce suicides among police officers, is encouraged by a new state law that allows first responders to seek mental health care confidentially. Daily Herald File Photo

 
Posted9/20/2019 5:30 AM

Back in June, we told you about the rise in suicides by law enforcement officers and how Buffalo Grove Police Chief Steve Casstevens is helping lead the charge to reverse the troubling trend. Now we've got some good news on that front. Gov. J.B. Pritzker has signed into law a measure allowing police, firefighters and other first responders to seek mental health care confidentially.

As Casstevens told us in June, reducing the number of law enforcement suicides requires overcoming the stigma and perceived weakness that comes with seeking help. Officers also fear that if their superiors know they're in counseling, they might be strapped to a desk job or lose opportunities for promotions.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Under the First Responder Suicide Prevention Act, a police officer can seek counseling without worrying that it will become common knowledge around the department, or that things they tell their counselor will get back to their bosses.

"If that's what it takes to get officers to seek help when they need it, I'm all for it," Casstevens told us Thursday. "I'd rather have them seeking help any way they can than not dealing with the issue."

The other side

Now the bad news. Despite the efforts of Casstevens and his colleagues at the advocacy group Blue H.E.L.P., officer suicides remain on a record pace. To date, 155 officers nationwide have taken their lives in 2019 -- nearly as many as in all of 2018 -- including 12 in just the past two weeks, according to Blue H.E.L.P.

Casstevens takes over as president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police next month, and he plans to make dealing with officer suicides a priority of his tenure.

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That includes a "critical issues forum" on the topic during the association's annual conference, set for Oct. 26-29 in Chicago.

"There will be a police commander from France taking part because they're having some of the same issues we are," Casstevens said. "It will be an interesting discussion for our profession."

Top 40

One of Vernon Hills' finest can now lay claim to being one of the world's finest.

Vernon Hills police Cmdr. Shannon Holubetz
Vernon Hills police Cmdr. Shannon Holubetz - Courtesy of the International Association of Chiefs of Police

Cmdr. Shannon Holubetz recently was named to the International Association of Chiefs of Police's "40 Under 40" list for 2019, placing him among the top rising law enforcement leaders from around the globe.

Holubetz, 36, joined the law enforcement profession in 2005, in part, motivated by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He was promoted to sergeant in 2015 and commander in 2018.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Among the reasons the association cited in his selection to the list is his work training new officers.

"His efforts and dedication to new officer development have not only brought immediate success but will have a lasting impact as the new generation of Vernon Hills police officers join with the proper foundation and support," the association said.

And apparently not one to rest on his laurels, Holubetz recently began work on a doctorate in education, with the goal of bringing more innovation to police training.

Ex-choir director loses appeal

A state appeals court this week upheld the convictions of a former Crystal Lake high school choir director accused of giving students booze and inappropriately touching two of them.

A McHenry County judge found Justin Hubly, 37, guilty of misdemeanor battery and serving alcohol to a minor after a brief trial last year. He later was sentenced to nonreporting probation for a year and a $2,000 fine.

In his appeal, Hubly argued the judge allowed improper evidence into the trial and, even with that, there wasn't enough evidence to find him guilty.

The appellate court rejected both claims.

"Although defendant suggested during his testimony that there was a conspiracy against him, the court found that there was 'no credible evidence of any concerted effort to fabricate or tell untruths,'" Justice Kathryn Zenoff wrote in the unanimous ruling.

Hubly, who worked 13 years at Crystal Lake Central High School, lost his job after the allegations surfaced in 2016.

Check it out

See the DuPage County jail Saturday, without having to be in handcuffs.

Tours of the jail and DuPage County's crime-evidence processing laboratory are part of the sheriff office's "Safety Saturday" festivities, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the DuPage County Fairgrounds, 2015 Manchester Road, Wheaton. Shuttles will take people to the nearby government center for the tours.

DuPage County Sheriff Jim Mendrick is welcoming people to check out the county jail -- without handcuffs -- on Saturday when his office hosts an open house in Wheaton.
  DuPage County Sheriff Jim Mendrick is welcoming people to check out the county jail -- without handcuffs -- on Saturday when his office hosts an open house in Wheaton. - Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer, January 2019

There will be lots of activities, including a helicopter landing, a display of police and military vehicles, child car-seat checks and the ever-popular dunk-the-deputy tank. Refreshments, including hot dogs and desserts, will be sold from food trucks. For more information, visit the office's Facebook page.

Also Saturday, Naperville police and firefighters will demonstrate, for the first time, their joint water-rescue team at the city's public safety open house. Fire and police vehicles will be displayed, there will be a simulated extrication rescue from a vehicle, a Lifestar medical helicopter will land, and flashover fires will be demonstrated. It's from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Naperville police station, 1350 Aurora Road.

Break-in news

Illinois ranks 31st in the nation when it comes to burglaries, according to a recent study by the home security website safehome.org.

Using data from the 2018 FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting Program, the study found there were 5.45 reported cases per 1,000 households in 2017. That's a bit below the national average of 6.87 per 1,000 homes.

How do we compare with our Midwestern neighbors? We're doing better than Iowa (7.25), Missouri (7.24) and Indiana (7.02), but not Michigan (5.24), Minnesota (5.18) and Wisconsin (4.39).

Other interesting facts from the study:

• 57% of burglaries involve forcible entry.

• More than 6 of 10 burglaries occurred during the day.

• The average burglary in 2017 involved stolen cash and other items worth $2,416.

• An arrest is made in only about 13.5% of cases.

Coming up

Dominic Sanders is scheduled to go on trial next week in DuPage County court on charges he murdered a Hinsdale woman in her home in 2017.
Dominic Sanders is scheduled to go on trial next week in DuPage County court on charges he murdered a Hinsdale woman in her home in 2017.

Dominic Sanders goes on trial Tuesday in DuPage County, on charges he murdered a Hinsdale woman during a 2017 break-in at her home.

And a Kane County judge will decide whether to issue a directed verdict in the case against Paxton Singer, a former youth pastor accused of child sexual exploitation.

• Got a tip or comment? Send an email to copsandcrime@dailyherald.com.

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