Las Vegas Sun

May 27, 2019

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Feds deem Metro’s mental health efforts a model for the country

Metro Cop Charleston Hartfield

A Metro Police officer is unable to hold back tears during a ceremony for mass-shooting victim Officer Charleston Hartfield at the Police Memorial Park on Thursday, Oct. 5, 2017.

Because of its unpredictable nature, a career in law enforcement means that routine assignments can turn into perilous chases, struggles with combative suspects, or even a mass shooting at a country music festival.

That’s why it’s vital that the mental wellness of the country's roughly 800,000 law enforcement officers — on the local and federal levels — is safeguarded, according to the Department of Justice.

Metro Police was one of 11 exemplary agencies whose “successful and promising law enforcement mental health and wellness strategies” can be replicated across the U.S.

The agencies were named in one of two reports released to Congress on Wednesday as required by the 2017 Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Act, which unanimously passed in Congress and was signed into law by President Donald Trump the following January.

The accompanying report — the Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Act Report to Congress — made 22 recommendations that included supporting programs, such has embedding mental health professionals in agencies to develop suicide prevention strategies, officials said.

The Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) penned the findings.

On the night of Oct. 1, 2017, more than 900 Metro officers responded to locations across Las Vegas in connection with the mass shooting, the report recounted, some encountering some of the 58 fatal victims or the hundreds more who were injured by bullets.

“All were unified in a heroic front to respond and serve, but the incident sent waves of trauma throughout the community, and no one who worked in emergency responses in the city was left untouched,” the case study said.

Cops are prone to have superhero mentalities that allow them to bottle up their emotions, said Metro’s Police Employee Assistance Program (PEAP) manager William Gibbs, after a January Metro award ceremony.

So as the adrenaline of the mass shooting wore off, the small staff at PEAP began coordinating counseling services, eventually contacting every employee connected to the shooting and offering support, Gibbs said.

The programs highlighted in the reports have agency-wide support to prioritize officer mental health and wellness “in a way that overcomes stigma and builds confidence and trust in the privacy and sensitivity of the services available to officers, staff members, and their families,” the Justice Department wrote.

PEAP was drawn up after a 1984 suicide in Metro's ranks.

Colleagues of the decedent, Detective Ed Jensen and Lt. Jerry Keller — who later became sheriff — spearheaded the creation of the 24/7 peer group “to address officers’ psychological needs and their ability to process trauma,” the report said.

“The team,” as it was known to cops, was ready to help officers after they were involved in a shooting, deaths in the line of duty and other major incidents, the report said.

Now serving 6,000 personnel members, PEAP provides mental and physical wellness tools, the reports said.

During the academy, cadets attend two presentations regarding the program, which also teaches self-assessment, the report said. PEAP is “deeply embedded in the day-to-day operations of the organization,” the report noted.

During anniversary dates, Metro employees participate in personal health assessments, providing a score to determine if they need to take care of stress or trauma, the report said.

“(Metro) has created a culture of care and concern where employees understand that their duty is to serve and protect; their leaders and the policies of (Metro) will serve and protect them as well,” the report concluded.