DENVER -- New numbers show that for the third straight year, the leading cause of death among police officers is suicide.
The group Blue H.E.L.P. found 159 officers in the U.S. took their own lives last year. That’s more than all causes of on-duty death combined.
A local support group called Badge 2 Badge says the statistics shed light on the need to normalize PTSD treatment.
“It’s a tough job. You're seeing death, you are seeing abnormal traumatic events and exposing yourself to these incidents on a daily basis,” Badge 2 Badge founder Rebecca Allanson said.
Badge 2 Badge provides peer-to-peer support groups and resources for first responders in Denver.
“I was lucky because a friend intervened with me and we found Badge to Badge because there was a sense of hopelessness that I had for a long time,” Daniel Montana Jr. said.
Montana retired from the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office after 22 years. He saw many traumatic events as a deputy but it was a shooting that happened while off duty in November 2007 that changed his life.
“I suffer from severe brain trauma; I have permanent eye damage in my left eye,” Montana said. “I just about lost complete hearing in my left ear. I have constant pain in my head and in the frontal part of my face.”
Montana was driving home when a truck pulled up beside him. He says the driver threw a burning cigarette on his car. He got out to remove the cigarette and things escalated.
“The passenger came out and came around to my blind side and he punched me in the back of the head. He was a pretty big guy and I remember being lifted off the ground... he punched me so hard,” He said.
Montana fought back. He says he warned the men he was armed with a gun and was a police officer.
“I told them I had a gun and 'don’t make me shoot you' and he lunged at me and I shot twice. I hit him once in the hip and once in the heart,” Montana said.
The man died. Montana needed stitches from the fight and was bleeding from his eyes.
The incident did not end there.
Montana went through years of legal, professional and media scrutiny during a civil lawsuit. After he retired the pressure became too much.
“I was destroyed. I mean, literally destroyed as a person. I lost everything,” Montana said. “One day my wife - my ex-wife - told me, ‘You’re not the same person that I married.’”
This is when Montana says Badge to Badge saved his life.
“I said to myself, 'this is what I want to get involved in, this is my calling.' I need to help people and help officers and barriers being broken in the community.”
Montana now leads Badge 2 Badge meetings and finds healing in helping others.
This month Badge 2 Badge will expand to Golden and Castle Rock.