Through an interagency partnership, six police departments in Pierce County received a grant to enhance mental health resources for officers in each jurisdiction.
The $60,000 grant awarded by the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs (WASPC), aims to help the Bonney Lake, Buckley, Orting, Puyallup, Puyallup Tribal and Sumner Police Departments develop a collective peer support network.
Sumner Deputy Chief Andy McCurdy applied for the grant earlier this year. While working for the King County Sheriff’s Office, part of his responsibilities included supporting other officers through peer support after experiencing high-intensity field incidents. When McCurdy was hired at the Sumner department, he noticed that mental health resources were less accessible.
“In East Pierce County, there are a lot of small agencies that work together a lot,” McCurdy said. “But there was one area that showed he needed a bit more organization, and that’s an area of wellness and peer support.”
McCurdy said two of his priorities for the grant are contracting mental health providers familiar with law enforcement and training wellness and support officers within each partner’s police department. At the administrative level, he seeks to teach East Pierce County decision makers, such as police commanders, human resources designers and local elected officials, how mental health resources can improve officer well-being.
In addition to developing a program for partner departments, McCurdy outlines these steps in a toolkit of mental health resources to share with other small departments in Washington.
WASPC Projects and Programs Manager Jamie Weimer said McCurdy’s toolkit idea was unique among grant applicants.
“They’re really looking as part of their work to develop a peer support certification program that could be used in other agencies,” Weimer said. “So we’re very interested to see the work that this group is able to put together using these grant funds.”
According to a WASPC press release, the grant is part of the state legislature’s $587,000 effort to establish a behavioral health, support and suicide prevention program. The statement said the funds are intended “to leverage access to mental health professionals, critical stress management and resilience training.” According to McCurdy, his funds will last at least until July 2023.
Mental illness is one of the greatest occupational hazards for police officers. FIRST HELPa nonprofit that tackles mental health stigma among first responders, reported 177 suicides among U.S. law enforcement in 2021. The single cause of death that has more than officers live in the line of duty that year was COVID-19, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page website.
Peer support networks have had mixed results in reducing mental illness among police officers. A 2019 study sponsored by the National Institute of Justice found that while these groups are common among law enforcement, there is little evidence that they reduce an officer’s mental illness or increase use of services. Mental Health.
Despite the statistics, McCurdy is convinced that well-developed and well-communicated peer support services have positive effects on policing. When he or his colleagues approached the Kings County Department for help, he noticed that they all seemed more satisfied with their work afterwards.
“I’ve had times when things like my sleep or my health have been compromised by stressors on or off the job,” McCurdy said. “I have found myself how helpful it is to know the resources available and to know that the resources are culturally competent in understanding my needs as a law enforcement officer.”
If you or someone you know has had thoughts of harming yourself, please seek help immediately. The National Suicide Prevention Hotline phone number is 800-273-8255