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Sister of cop who killed himself disappointed with NYPD officials

Eileen Echeverria of West Islip, the sister of

Eileen Echeverria of West Islip, the sister of NYPD officer Robert Echeverria, who died by suicide. Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle

The West Islip sister of NYPD Officer Robert Echeverria, who took his life earlier this month, said she had a disappointing meeting with department officials Friday.

Eileen Echeverria spoke with reporters outside police headquarters and said that two department officials told her during a 20-minute meeting about various programs now in place to help suicidal and mentally ill cops in a year when a record number of nine officers have taken their own lives. But the programs, Echeverria said, are hobbled by the fear of officers that they will be stigmatized if they seek help.

Echeverria said she had the impression that the officials didn’t have much to say to her and was disappointed that they didn’t join her in talking with reporters. Asked if she believed they were trying to placate her, Echeverria answered “absolutely.”

Echeverria, 52, the owner of Trinity Hair Suite in Bay Shore, said that she had also tried unsuccessfully to meet with NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill since her brother killed himself on Aug.14 at his home in Queens. The married cop left two children, as well as his sister and mother.

Ever since her 56-year-old brother died, Echeverria has juggled her days as a hair dresser with a new self-styled calling as a voice for police officers and their families struggling with mental illness, job pressures and suicidal thoughts.

"For hundreds of officer struggling … for hundreds of widows and mother who have had to bury their children, this is our reality, you can’t sweep that under the rug, you can’t unbreak my mother’s heart, you can’t unbreak his children’s heart and you can’t unbreak mine,” Echeverria said.

In a Newsday interview the day after her brother died, Echeverria said she had talked with internal affairs officers nearly a dozen times about his fragile and suicidal state, including as most recently as June. While Robert Echeverria did have his gun taken away for a brief period, his sister said it was returned to him after a police psychiatrist deemed that he wasn’t a risk to himself or others.

Echeverria said she had been told by NYPD officials that her various contacts with the department in the weeks and months before her brother died were under investigation.

Echeverria said she met with deputy commissioner for employee relations Robert Ganley, as well as a department official who deals with “family relations.” Echeverria said she learned about various programs instituted to deal with the recent rash of nine suicides, including peer counseling for officers at precincts and confidential telephone lines for officers in trouble.

An NYPD official noted Friday that the department has started mandatory online training using an employee assistance app on department cellphones.

Echeverria said she had her own ideas to help cops.

“I have asked that perhaps that rather than have officers self-surrender that we have mental health experts in each precinct,” Echeverria said. “Just as you and I every year go for a physical that perhaps officers should be called in three times a year.”

Since her brother died, Eileen said that she has been besieged by letters and emails of other cops and widows about the mental health problems for police work and the seeming inability of the department to deal with it. What appears to be anti-police sentiment in some communities also is hurting officers, she said.

“I have had hundreds of people who have reached out to me,” she said, adding that the “war on cops has been hurting all of us.” 

In response to recent suicides the city has implored cops to call confidential telephone numbers set up to deal with them. But Echeverria said cops believe there is no confidentiality in the reporting system.

Echeverria said based on the letters and calls she has been getting, there is plenty of work for her to do on the issue of police suicides and mental health.

“I am not going away,” she said.

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