The U.S. Department of Justice recently awarded the city of Statesboro, on behalf of its Police Department, a $104,046 grant for an effort also involving Georgia Southern University and the Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office to provide “Mental Health First Aid” instruction to police and other first responders throughout the area.
Statesboro was one of only two local governments in Georgia – the other was Rockdale County – to receive one of this year’s Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Act grants. The Justice Department’s Community Oriented Policing Services, or COPS, Office in mid-October announced the awards totaling $7,060,752 to 66 local, state and tribal governments or their law enforcement agencies across the nation.
The Statesboro Police Department has partnered with Georgia Southern’s Tactical Athletes Initiative, as well as the county Sheriff’s Office and the university’s Department of Public Safety, for this project. Their plan is to train 10 instructors in the Mental Health First Aid course and then have them visit other agencies to teach up to 700 public safety professionals within two years.
The course is designed to help those professionals help each other, said Statesboro Chief of Police Mike Broadhead. Observing that public safety personnel encounter crisis events that can lead to conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder, he chose a poignant local example, the house fire over the weekend that took the lives of two young children.
“There are probably people who are not going to be able to un-see those two kids, right? They’ve dragged two kids out of a fire scene, they tried to resuscitate them, so for the EMS personnel and the fire personnel, that’s a pretty traumatic thing,” Broadhead said.
“So the purpose of this class really is to help people within those professions to coach each other, to learn how to properly debrief people from those situations, to help them develop some resiliency … and to understand, like, the symptoms of PTSD so that employees can see that in themselves or in their partners if they are starting to struggle dealing with issues,” he said.
Cops as teachers
The plan calls for training four employees from the Statesboro Police Department, four from the Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office and two from the Georgia Southern University Police Department as instructors.
“They will then train all of the officers, firefighters, and EMS in the city, county and university,” Broadhead explained in an email. “After that they will offer the course to the adjoining counties and their first responders, though that will be up to those agencies if they want to participate.”
He described teaching 700 first responders within two years as “the goal.”
The Tactical Athletes Initiative is led by Exercise Science Professor Bridget Melton, Ed.D., in the Waters College of Health Professions at Georgia Southern. The local law enforcement and fire departments have worked with Melton to improve their physical training programs, and she is now instrumental in adding the mental health component, Broadhead said.
Statesboro City Council formally accepted the grant by a 5-0 vote Nov. 2. The program should be ready to launch by early January, he said.
The largest Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Act grants awarded were $125,000 each, regardless of the size of the agency that applied.
The list released by the Justice Department COPS Office shows that the 66 recipients included some other relatively small cities and counties, but also several of the nation’s largest cities and some statewide police agencies.
For example, the government of the District of Columbia was awarded $124,915; the city of Chicago, $124,850; the Chickasaw Nation in Oklahoma, $102,497; and Salt Lake City Corporation, in Utah, just $59,350. But the city and county of Honolulu; the city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; the city of Houston, Texas; the Alaska Department of Public Safety and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation each received the full $125,000.
Rockdale County’s award, at $116,480, is a little larger than Statesboro’s.
“Each day, law enforcement officers across the country put their lives on the line for the communities they serve,” U.S. Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco said in the national press release. “This has been especially true since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has claimed hundreds of officers’ lives and added to the stress of an already difficult job. Mental health is as important as physical health, and the Department of Justice is committed to investing in mental health and wellness programs that help keep our nation’s law enforcement healthy and safe.”