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Attitudes on treating mental health changing, local chiefs say

Columbia Basin Herald - 3/1/2021

Mar. 1—MOSES LAKE — Moses Lake Police Chief Kevin Fuhr and Ephrata Police Chief Kurt Adkinson are law enforcement veterans of the same vintage as former Royal City Police Chief Darin Smith and remember what it was like "back in the day."

When it came to a traumatic situation, stoicism was the rule.

"Your bosses told you just to suck it up and get back to work," Fuhr said.

"It was viewed as a sign of weakness," Adkinson said.

He was involved in a few traumatic situations, Adkinson said, including an accident with a drunk person on a bike, and the deaths of other officers. But police officers didn't talk about it much then.

That's changing.

"We can't continue to do that," Fuhr said.

"I really believe that stigma is starting to leave the world of law enforcement," Adkinson said.

Adkinson is a retired Washington State Patrol trooper and said services formerly just for WSP are now offered for officers in all agencies across the state. That includes an option for officers who want counseling privately for whatever reason, personal or professional.

There are resources available to law enforcement, Adkinson said, and it's incumbent upon department administrators to ensure officers know those options exist. Not only that, administrators should encourage officers to take advantage of those resources, and make it clear there's no shame in doing so, Adkinson said.

In 2020, Fuhr said the MLPD started bringing in a mental health professional to meet with officers twice each year. And a mental health professional meets with officers involved in traumatic incidents, such as an officer-involved shooting in February 2020.

As the chief, Fuhr said if he knows his officers well, "you can see when their attitude has changed."

Sergeants with MLPD meet with the officers under their supervision once a month, just to see what's going on with them, Fuhr said.

A couple of MLPD officers have asked for and received mental health services, Fuhr said, and it worked pretty well.

Paying attention to physical and mental health is part of officer training now, Adkinson said. The Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs has been instrumental in advocating for additional attention to the mental health of officers, he said.

Additionally, the Washington Legislature is considering bills to establish guidelines for mental health issues among law enforcement.

"Frankly, we should've been doing it for years," Fuhr said.


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