Attorney General Josh Kaul. (Contributed)

Attorney General launches new law enforcement mental health program

By Patrick Lynn

The Wisconsin Department of Justice announced on Thursday a new law enforcement mental health and wellness program supported through federal grant funding.

The $125,000 fund from the U.S. Department of Justice Community Oriented Police Services (COPS), will support expanded peer support training, updated peer support training for those who already have basic training, DOJ instructors providing annual training for certification in Critical Incident and Stress Management, and continuing education for current peer support teams across the state.

The program kicked off this week with the first meeting of the statewide Peer Support Advisory Committee, consisting of chiefs, sheriffs, psychologists, policy staff, and other law enforcement officers from across Wisconsin. The committee will provide Attorney General Josh Kaul with recommendations from the law enforcement community and mental health professionals regarding the wellness and training needs for the law enforcement in Wisconsin.

The committee will be responsible for producing a manual that will “define the framework for developing and supporting regional peer support networks through the state of Wisconsin,” according to a news release from Kaul’s office.

Good mental and psychological health is just as essential as good physical health for law enforcement officers to be effective in keeping our communities safe from crime and violence, Kaul said.

In 2019, there were 239 officer suicides in the United States, according to Blue H.E.L.P., a non-profit organization that tracks law enforcement suicides. That number represents suicides that have been reported—many more officer suicides that go unreported. The group estimates the real number may be twice as high.

Portage Co. has such a peer group. Four officers from Stevens Point, two each from Portage Co. and Plover, and one from UWSP are trained in peer support. A network of chaplains from multiple faiths is also on standby, ready to assist if needed.

“As they protect public safety, law enforcement officers encounter difficult, and sometimes traumatic, circumstances,” Kaul said. “Peer support and other wellness programs can provide assistance and should be available to officers throughout Wisconsin. This initiative will support and promote the development of those programs.”