Police Program Focuses on Mental Wellness for Officers

Tags: Currents Baltimore, Media, Mental Health, National News, Police, Suicide

Currents News Staff

A startling statistic is stamping the end of the decade: according to a non-profit group, more than 200 current or former police officers took their own lives nationwide in 2019.

The statistic comes from Blue H.E.L.P., a group which tracks officer suicides.

Baltimore Police Sergeant Richard Watts started a new road on his second day back after a five month break taken in part to recover from alcoholism.

In 2018, stress from the job collided with heartbreak at home. Illness forced his wife onto life support. 

“At that point in my life, everything was broken,” he said.

Then, in October of that year, Sgt. Watts drove drunk and was arrested.

“I’ve been subjected to horrifying situations,” he explained. “I didn’t deal with it.”

Sgt. Watts turned to Vernon Herron, director of the Baltimore Police Department’s officer safety & wellness section, a program to identify and help officers who may be struggling.

The focus is simple: early intervention and overall health & wellness.

“Imagine these officers who are alcoholics, or these officers who are involved in traumatic events, and they never got the help and there out protecting the public,” said Herron. “What could happen to them?” 

Former Baltimore Police Department Deputy Commissioner Jason Johnson developed the idea for the program, and now works with police around the country through the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund.

“We had this observation that there wasn’t a lot of effort being put to helping the police officers there deal with the trauma,” Johnson explained.

“The reality is it could be anyone. That’s the truth.”

It’s a kind of pain that gripped Sgt. Watts, who lost his wife in January.  Though he’s on a journey without her, Sgt. Watts knows he is far from alone.

“Showing up now for work every day is a daily reminder of how fortunate I really was,” he said. “I’ve been given a second chance, and I’m trying to take full advantage of that.

If you or someone you know needs help or more information, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255