As part of a new department policy, police officers in East Point, Georgia, are now required to undergo mental health counseling after responding to a traumatic scene.
The initiative is intended to alleviate the mental health burden on officers and help with recruitment and retention efforts.
East Point Police Chief Shawn Buchanan explained that the policy will make sure those who spend their lives helping others will get the help they need as well.
“We’ve had officers see burning victims in cars, we’ve had officers see deceased children,” Buchanan told CBS46. “That is very traumatic.”
The chief said that since implementing the policy, the department has already had two groups of officers undergo counseling after responding to fatal car accidents.
Buchanan said the reason why the policy is mandatory is because officers would not likely accept counseling voluntarily.
“In this profession, if it’s voluntary, it’s not going to happen. A lot of officers want to maintain the macho attitude, but we know through research it’s a real issue,” Buchanan said.
Research obtained by CBS46 from the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) reported the average life expectancy of a police officer in the United States is 22 fewer years than a civilian. Officers also report higher rates of heart disease, mental health problems, substance abuse issues, divorce and suicide.
While other law enforcement agencies in the metro area require officers to undergo an emotional debriefing and psychological evaluation with a psychiatrist after a traumatic incident, Buchanan said that counseling can have greater benefits.
“To have someone listen, understand and give remedies and help me think of things in a better light is beneficial for me. That’s what we want for our officers as well,” Buchanan explained.
Georgia lawmakers have also recently formulated a new bill that would require insurance companies to cover mental health conditions.
Other departments across the country, like in Connecticut, have developed similar peer support and counseling programs to support officers’ mental health.