NOVATO, Calif. - 99 members of law enforcement have taken their own lives this year alone, according to bluehelp.org.
Novato police are mourning the loss of one of their own.
Recently retired Corporal Nick Zolli, a 16-year veteran of the department and mental health liaison, took his own life on December 1, after losing his battle with post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the Novato Police Officers Association.
"It’s been really hard to process", NPOA member Laura Houser said.
Zolli was one of her best friends at work.
They worked together to save a mini horse from the Tubbs Fire in 2017.
"Like, how could somebody who was such an advocate for the well-being of their coworkers and the wellness of others be led to this point?" Houser asked.
The easy-going sports fan led the department’s peer support team, helping fellow officers cope with the realities of the job.
"He was one that I could confide in with my own mental health struggles that are, you know, inevitable at the point in law enforcement," Houser said.
Zolli was awarded the Medal of Merit in 2019 for talking a suicidal person off an overpass.
He would go on to train over 30 officers in the field, including Paul Shaw, who is now president of the Novato Police Officers Association.
"Just because someone retires, it doesn’t mean that there’s a blank slate and nothing from their past is going to affect them still," Shaw said.
Tiburon Police Sgt. Sean Christopher ended his own life one year ago Tuesday inside the police station.
San Francisco Police Sgt. Chris Morris would also die by suicide in 2022.
"PTSD is the inability to forget," Dr. Ellen Kirschman of Redwood City said.
Dr. Kirschman is a police psychologist and has written books on the topic.
"I was pleased to see his department acknowledged it and is talking out loud, because for too many years, suicides have simply been shoved under the rug because nobody wanted to admit that this kind of police work can create this kind of a mental crisis for somebody," Dr. Kirschman said.
According to Dr. Kirschman, officers are 3 times more likely to take their own lives than to be killed in the line of duty.
"The world of law enforcement is dangerous, but I think the most dangerous part isn’t going to work, it’s going home," Houser said.
Zolli’s friends and colleagues are focused on preventing another tragedy like this from happening again.
There is a GoFundMe to help his longtime partner with funeral expenses.