Police Mental Health Crisis: How to Respond

We all saw it coming, didn’t we? The weekly, sometimes daily, event of a questionable use of deadly force by American police officers.

Each event, culminating in the death of George Floyd in May of 2020, resulted in widespread, even international, protest and property damage.

Each event seemed to cry out for a compassionate response from police. The community begging for a plan to prevent or minimize these tragic, trust and support-eroding events.

My position is that the inability or unwillingness of American police leaders to compassionately act and propose community-supported changes has directly caused the mental health problems we are experiencing in our nation’s police today — the unprecedented numbers of senior police officers seeking retirement, and the inability of police agencies to fill those vacancies.

What to do? Leaders must stand up and fix this! We have the tools to do this. The most important one is to authentically connect with your community — and that is through a total commitment (no “programs”) to true community-oriented police services — a major, overall organizational transformation!

A great endeavor that would put police leaders face-to-face with community leaders and answer the question asked by most persons of color in America — “When are you going to stop killing us?” Facing this question would require a commitment to raise the standard of Graham v. Connor and follow the guidelines on force promulgated by the Police Executive Research Form along with cultivating the ability to deeply listen and care.

It’s really not that hard. But what it takes is the courage to transform police in our nation from being warriors to guardians — no more of this para-military dress and attitude! No more killology! That will require a major attitudinal change in the subculture of policing that will take planning, passion and a lengthy persistence.

Many of us who were police leaders during the civil rights movement and the unpopular war in Vietnam were able to do this; to attract educated, committed young men and women to police service. They responded to our call to join us — “the domestic peace corps,” and to challenge them, “If you don’t like police, please join us and help us change!”

The outgrowth of a true transformation will be a new kind of community-oriented police officer, a committed, compassionate neighborhood leader. It will be an attractive calling. This kind of neighborhood-oriented guardian will rebuild trust and support and will attract the “best and brightest,” young men and women to seek policing as an attractive career.

If you are unsure about what I am proposing and how to go about doing it, I suggest you peruse the contents of this blog — everything I’ve said, I’ve said before and over the years. (Including in my book.)

In the meantime, communities must provide services like the one below to effectively respond to the present crisis in police mental health.


From Kaiser Health News — Katja Ridderbusch, September 27, 2022

A photo shows three men conversing in a room decorated with law enforcement memorabilia. An American flag and a Maryland flag stand behind them.
Harbor of Grace CEO Ken Beyer (center) speaks with Robert Quick (right), who is the director of patient services and a former police lieutenant, and Vice President Chuck Hart.

HAVRE DE GRACE, Md. — Ken Beyer can’t think of a day in the past few months when his phone didn’t flutter with calls, text messages, and emails from a police department, a sheriff’s office, or a fire station seeking help for an employee. A patrol officer threatening to kill himself with his service weapon before roll call. A veteran firefighter drowning in vodka until he collapses. A deputy overdosing on fentanyl in his squad car.

“‘It’s the worst that I’ve seen in my career,’ said Beyer, co-founder and CEO of Harbor of Grace Enhanced Recovery Center, a private mental health and substance use recovery and treatment center for first responders in the waterfront Maryland town of Havre de Grace. Established in 2015, Harbor of Grace is one of only six treatment centers in the U.S. approved by the Fraternal Order of Police, the world’s largest organization of law enforcement officers.

Public safety is a profession plagued by high rates of mental health and addiction problems. Considering the unrelenting pressures on first responders, Beyer said, the treatment centers can’t keep up with the demand.

Specialized recovery facilities like Harbor of Grace focus on treating law enforcement officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians, and dispatchers — people who regularly encounter violence and death at work. In the past two years, Beyer said, the number of police officers admitted for treatment at his facility alone has more than tripled. ‘And we always have up to 20 cops in the queue,’ he said. Other treatment centers for first responders reported a similar spike in patients.

“Anger at police and policing practices soared after a Minneapolis officer murdered George Floyd in 2020, and it put additional strain on officers’ mental health, said Dr. Brian Lerner, a psychiatrist and the medical director at Harbor of Grace. ‘Officers feel disparaged by the public and often, they also feel unsupported by their agencies,” he said…’”

Read the full article HERE .

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