Senators David, Thompson study law enforcement training and mental health needs
The Senate Public Safety Committee heard from law enforcement officials, Career Tech representatives and mental health experts Thursday about modernizing training for Oklahoma’s law enforcement officers and their mental health needs. The study was requested by Majority Floor Leader, Sen. Kim David, R-Porter, and Appropriations Chairman, Sen. Roger Thompson, R-Okemah.
David knows the importance of good training and proper mental health as her husband is a retired U.S. Marshal and former Broken Arrow police officer. He now serves as a certified critical incident response councilor and sits on the board of the Warriors’ Rest Foundation.
“Coming from a law enforcement family, I remember seeing how training improved the officers around us, and I want to make sure that all Oklahoma law enforcement agencies have access to the high quality training they need to properly protect themselves and the public,” David said. “People see the chaos in our country and think it’s happening in their own backyard, but we have tremendous law enforcement officers in Oklahoma. However, they are struggling with recruitment and retention in this difficult time. Our law enforcement is under unimaginable stress and we must protect them and their mental health. We need to reassure young people that this is a great profession and keep our brave men and women from leaving this honorable profession.”
Thompson echoed David’s sentiments thanking the speakers for their dedication to helping Oklahoma’s law enforcement officers.
“We received some great information in this study and want to thank everyone who is working with us to figure out how to best train our law enforcement and improve departments and agencies across the state. We strongly support these courageous public servants, and these issues will be prioritized this session,” Thompson said. “While these officers have selflessly dedicated their lives to protecting the public, we must ensure that they’re also taking care of their families, themselves and their mental health.”
Tulsa Police Chief Wendell Franklin and Eufaula Police Chief Mark Goodwin shared their perspectives on current law enforcement training along with the need for further mental health assistance for officers. Tulsa Police Department has its own academy and requires 1,060 hours of training as well as a bachelor’s degree for employment. Before going out on their own, Tulsa officers receive a total of nine months of training. The Eufaula Police Department receives the state mandated 583 hours of CLEET training plus any additional training required for the Department once an officer returns from CLEET training. Their testimony showed the differences in training resources for urban and rural law enforcement agencies. Both acknowledged that additional funding for further training would be beneficial in all law enforcement agencies.
Oklahoma’s career technology centers are partnering with CLEET to help provide further training and continuing education for officers in critical areas. They also provide classes for high school students and young adults to provide insight and a potential pipeline into law enforcement careers.
Chiefs Franklin and Goodwin also related that further mental health services for detainees and officers was desperately needed. The Tulsa County Sheriff’s office was one example of a Department that has instituted many programs to help better protect the mental health of their officers. This year, they started a peer-to-peer program where select officers are trained in how to encourage their fellow officers to seek counseling or other mental health assistance they may need.
Officers fearing career repercussions, embarrassment or failure, often will not seek professional health for mental health issues. They spoke of the need to help law enforcement deal with mental exhaustion from being subjected to constant traumas while protecting their relationships and preventing burnout.
Brad Shephard, CEO of Warrior’s Rest Foundation, further discussed the mental health needs of officers who commonly deal with depression, anxiety, anger, PTSD, helplessness, addiction and other emotional issues. Shephard pointed out that the average divorce rate for the law enforcement profession is significantly higher than the national average. According to a 2018 study by the National Fraternal Order of Police more than 52% of officers have or are facing relationship problems. The study also found that more than 16% have had thoughts of suicide, more than 65% have sleep problems or disorders and nearly 61% have intrusive or unwanted memories including images, sounds and smells from the traumas they have witnessed. More than 90% report stigma is a barrier to seeking treatment and also that they believe the public lacks awareness of the critical stress in law enforcement.
The Ruderman Foundation reports that 35% of officers have PTSD and 31% suffer from depression while only 7% of the public experience either.
Nisha Wilson, ODMHSAS’ Senior Director of State Operated Community Mental Health Centers and Criminal Justice Services, emphasized the importance of addressing mental illness in society. If citizens’ mental health is not addressed, they are more likely to have run-ins with law enforcement. Since 2002, ODMHSAS has provided crisis intervention training (CIT) to more than 1,300 law enforcement officers statewide. The evidence-based training helps them recognize mental health issues and connects them with mental health professionals and resources in their local communities.
The agency also has 23 urgent recovery centers statewide where officers can take detainees with mental health issues to be evaluated rather than taking them to a hospital or jail. Altogether, Wilson noted their services save law enforcement time and money while decreasing incarceration rates and getting individuals the mental health assistance they need.
Other speakers included Amanda English, Metro Tech’s Basic Peace Officer Certification Academy Program Director; Tulsa Tech’s Chief Communications Officer, Tony Heaberlin; Tulsa Tech’s Industry Training Center Director, Matt Litterell; Heath Hayes, ODMHSAS Senior Director of Communications and Strategic Engagement; and Ben Crockett with the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office.