NEW PORT RICHEY, Fla. — The Pasco County Sheriff’s Office became the latest Tampa Bay public safety agency to lose a member to suicide with the death of Deputy April Rodriguez, 43, on Sunday.
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“I promised her husband one thing, and I told him I’d do it at the beginning of the press conference – to tell everyone how special April was and that she was deeply loved,” Sheriff Chris Nocco told media on Monday. “She was a good person with a great heart and loved her children very much.”
Nocco said Rodriguez became a deputy in January 2015 and served District 3, which covers Trinity, Holiday, and the SR-54 and US-19 corridors.
She was one of the more visible faces of the sheriff’s office, thanks to her participation in virtual ride-a-longs chronicled on Twitter known as “tweet-a-longs.” She even had her own hashtag -- #ARodTweetAlong.
In a video posted on January 9 of last year, Rodriguez answered a question about why she joined the sheriff’s office.
“I wanted to eventually become a detective, but as I started on the road, I got to know people. I’ve worked in the same area the entire time that I’ve been on the road, so I see the people that are truly in need, and one thing about me is I enjoy helping people,” Rodriguez said at the time.
Rodriguez was discovered deceased in her apartment by colleagues who checked on her when she didn’t show up for work Sunday morning.
“They were heartbroken," Nocco said. "This is not just somebody they worked with — this was a friend.”
Victim advocates, chaplains, and the office’s Critical Incident Stress Management team were made available to Rodriguez’s family and co-workers Sunday, according to Nocco. Command staff also spoke to her squad.
Nocco said mental health is a priority for PCSO. Members began attending crisis intervention training several years ago, and instruction was expanded last year to address officer wellness.
Multiple trainings are also held on emotional survival for law enforcement for both deputies and their families. Deputies also have access to an app they can turn to for help dealing with post-traumatic stress.
The sheriff wasn’t able to say if Rodriguez took advantage of any of the resources available because all help is confidential.
“We have those resources available, and so, we plead and we beg – if people need help, the resources are out there for them,” Nocco said.
More people reaching out for help
“It’s very disappointing in the fact that it’s not surprising,” Todd Woodfill said of Rodriguez’s death. Woodfill is executive director of the nonprofit TW Foundation, which works to prevent suicide.
“We lose more first responders, both fire and police, to suicide every year than we do in the line of duty,” he explained.
Woodfill last spoke with Spectrum Bay News 9 in December about expanding the nonprofit’s outreach to include first responders and veterans. At the time, an average of 15-20 people were reaching out for help each week.
“After the last Bay News 9 interview, the next morning, we woke up to over 700 requests for help,” Woodfill said. “More than 400 of those were from police officers around the country, and over 100 of those were from the Tampa area, police officers in the Tampa-area saying, ‘I’ve been looking for help, I can’t find help, there are psychiatrists telling me that I can’t get help for three months, and if I got to my EAP program, they’ll pull me off the job.”
EAP, or Employee Assistance Programs, can offer free and confidential help to workers struggling with a range of issues.
Woodfill applauded the Pasco Sheriff’s Office efforts to make mental health resources available to deputies. He said his foundation is working with other police departments and sheriff’s offices to change policies that may deter officers from seeking help.
“A lot of the policies that are established are focused on getting the officer, removing their gun, getting their badge away and getting them the help that they do need, but there’s no road map in place for that officer to get put back on regular duty. There’s no way for that officer to step right back in,” Woodfill said. “When that’s the policy, there’s no police officer that’s going to step up. They’re not going to take a chance on losing their career, what means the most to them, and what’s paying and taking care of their family.”
Nocco said another issue among law enforcement in general is fighting the stigma against seeking help.
“It’s very hard to change the culture where people are told to 'suck it up', where people are told, ‘You don’t show any sign of weakness,’” he said. “You know what? Being able to talk about post-traumatic stress, having those issues – it’s not weakness.”
Both Nocco and Woodfill stressed suicide is not just an issue among law enforcement, but community-wide.
What you can do
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, confidential help is available for free through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
Signs to look for that may signal someone may be at risk for suicide include:
- talking about wanting to die or killing themselves
- looking for a way to kill themselves
- talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live
- talking about feeling trapped or being in unbearable pain
- talking about being a burden to others
- increased alcohol or drug use
- acting anxious or agitated or behaving recklessly
- sleeping too little or too much
- withdrawing or isolating themselves
- showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
- excessive mood swings
To learn more, visit: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
For more information on the TW Foundation, visit http://defeatsuicide.com.