Steamboat police seek to ‘remove barriers’ to officers’ mental health care, chief says
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — As police violence and reform continue to be key issues across the nation, local police are actively seeking ways to improve — and that includes officers’ mental health.
The Steamboat Springs Police Department has applied for a $15,000 grant — with $7,500 from the city and $7,500 from the state — to support officers’ mental health. It will primarily be used to bolster programs already in place from the Colorado Public Safety Employee Assistance Program, such as one-on-one counseling and wellness training for officers to deal with stress in both their professional and personal lives.
“It’s important because our police officers have a stressful job that can affect them and their families,” said Jason Lacy, Steamboat Springs City Council president. “Anytime our police are getting help with their mental health, that’s just good for the community.”
Steamboat Police Chief Cory Christensen said the main idea behind the grant is to remove barriers for officers receiving help with mental health.
While not all officers need traditional counseling, he said, mental health professionals may ride around with officers during a shift for an hour or two to check in and help debrief issues with officers.
“It’s a Swiss Army knife approach to providing services that we need,” he said.
The Front Range has an abundance of resources, but the idea behind the grant was to hire local professionals and make those resources more accessible for officers in Routt County.
“Approaching first responders and how they deal with things is a little different than the average person,” he said. “We look for people who have that knowledge base and the desires to help first responders.”
The first part of the grant is to provide mental health support for officers, and the second is to provide training in taking care of their own mental health and working with residents with mental health issues.
“As we increase our knowledge about trauma as it relates to first responders, we learn more and more about how to help our employees deal with the day-to-day stressors of the profession,” Christensen said.
Christensen used the example of the May incident when a man died by suicide in front of the Combined Law Enforcement Facility in Steamboat.
“I want an officer to recognize that that’s an extraordinary event and feel very comfortable working through that with someone,” he said.
While the country is experiencing a national reckoning around police violence and reform, Christensen said that conversation can have hard effects on officers’ mental health.
“My officers continue to come to work, and people will spit at them and flip them off, and that has an impact,” he said. “They show up to work wanting to have a positive impact on the community.”
Christensen said the majority of what Steamboat officers receive from this community is positivity and support.
Additionally, both Lacy and Christensen said officers receiving better mental health care benefits the community.
“A better mental state enables (officers) to do their job better,” Christensen said. “The community benefits by having a well-rounded police officer who feels supported by their organization, feels supported by their community.”
“The public should feel good in making sure our police are in the best mental state to do their job,” Lacy said.
Christensen said he is unsure when the department will hear back on the grant, but hopes it is approved by the end of the year.
To reach Alison Berg, call 970-871-4229 or email aberg@SteamboatPilot.com.
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