About one in four police officers have had suicidal thoughts at some point in their lives, according to a memorandum from West Lake Hills Police Chief Scott Gerdes. That number is no lower in small-town departments.
West Lake Hills is making strides toward providing resources for the emotional health of its law enforcement officers.
City Council approved the adoption of a mandatory annual psychological wellness evaluation for all Police Department personnel during a July 24 meeting.
The program was funded as a one-year trial for the department. Council reserves the right to evaluate the program’s outcomes and choose to extend or cease the program the following year.
The new evaluation process is part of an updated officer wellness program implemented to ease the physical and psychological toll put on law enforcement, according to a City Council memorandum.
This program could potentially help decrease the stigma surrounding mental health, according to Council Member Beth South.
The stigma often keeps cops from seeking proper mental health care, Gerdes said.
“If you ask for help that means you’re weak, and cops in particular don’t like to ask for help,” Gerdes said.
Dr. Brandy Miller, West Lake Hills police psychologist, is scheduled to perform the yearly evaluations.
“The purpose of the psychological wellness evaluation is to give police officers the opportunity to address any psychological [or] emotional concerns or symptoms that have developed during the time period in which they have been employed with a law enforcement agency,” Miller said.
The International Association of Chiefs of Police model policy suggests all employees receive confidential mental health consultations. These wellness evaluations may include an occupational stress questionnaire and a multidimensional anxiety questionnaire.
The department will provide treatment recommendations and administrative leave for an officer who requires further advisement or who appears to be in immediate danger, according to the memorandum.
There are short- and long-term disability options available for officers who require extended time off.
“This would be the same process as if an officer broke their ankle,” City Administrator Robert Wood said.
The first seven days of administrative leave would be paid for by the department, according to Gerdes.
The officer medical exam budget will be increased by $4,000 for a total of $7,000, according to the fiscal year 2019-20 budget. The annual exam fees will be approximately $200 per employee.
“The cost is minimal, and the benefit to the officers and the citizens we serve will be well worth the effort to implement and administer the plan,” Gerdes said.