Colorado’s mounting crime wave threatens not only the physical safety of our citizens but also their mental health and sense of well-being.
That is especially true for the men and women of law enforcement, whose job it is to carry out the crime fight daily.
Now, more than at any time in recent memory, it takes an extra toll on officers when they go out on patrol or respond to an emergency.
The heightened pressure created by spiraling crime and increased attacks on officers can fray the nerves of even the most seasoned law-enforcement veterans.
And for those who are unfortunate enough to be in harm’s way when violence erupts — yet fortunate enough to survive — there is the added toll on their mental health caused by the trauma and its aftermath.
I ought to know; I was shot in the line of duty as an officer in 2016 and left paralyzed.
It has been a long and challenging road back since then to a new and meaningful position for me in law enforcement.
I learned along the way about the critical need for support for our state’s peace officers in dealing with the mental trauma their responsibilities inflict upon them.
That is why I recently testified at the state Capitol in support of legislation to provide much-needed funding to mental health services for law enforcement personnel across the state.
Senate Bill 22-005, a bipartisan effort sponsored by state Sens. Jeff Bridges and John Cooke as well as state Reps. Dylan Roberts and Dan Woog, provides much-needed additional funding to the Peace Officers Behavioral Health Support and Community Partnerships grant program.
This critical effort will provide resources to help law enforcement officers get the mental health care they need — behavioral health counseling, therapy, or other services for officers who are involved in traumatic situations on the job.
Help can’t come too soon for those who put their lives on the line to keep our communities safe.
As I pointed out in my testimony to lawmakers, a typical law enforcement officer experiences about 188 traumatic events during the course of a career; the average civilian experiences about four traumatic events in a lifetime.
The dramatic difference stands to reason; in few other lines of work can someone expect to routinely face the potential for life-threatening violence; the effects of trauma and violence on others; crime scenes that include homicide victims — you get the picture.
In other words, our version of the “daily grind” is frequent conflict that can erupt at any time into a life-or-death situation.
Imagine what impact that has on even the most resilient people — and you get the idea of the effects on those who serve in law enforcement as well as the collateral damage to their loved ones.
As I also noted to lawmakers in my testimony, the resources provided by this legislation can and will save lives.
It has done so in Douglas County, where we have been able to tap into the limited funding of the current state program.
We used the grant for the past three years, and it saved first responder lives from suicide within our own agency.
It also decreased our physical-injury worker’s comp claims by 40%.
There is a strong correlation between mental health and physical injuries.
We need our peace officers to be healthy, and not only for their own sake.
The safety of Colorado communities rests on well-trained law-enforcement officers who are physically as well as mentally fit.
Their ability to navigate potentially explosive situations quickly, coolly and competently hinges in significant degree on their mental health.
Let’s assure Colorado’s peace officers the peace of mind they deserve — so they can continue to serve us all.
— Dan Brite is a detective for the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office. Brite was shot and paralyzed in the line of duty while serving on a SWAT team in 2016. He now serves as the department’s wellness coordinator.
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