Minnesota law enforcement and community organizations are calling for more awareness and financial support to help address post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental health issues rife among officers in the state.
Eleven Minnesota organizations, including the League of Minnesota Cities, the Minnesota Sheriffs’ Association and the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, recently created the MN Public Safety Wellness Initiative to respond to the growing number of retirements from officers who cite PTSD as their reason for leaving the profession.
The initiative aims to increase awareness of the PTSD problem and support and educate workers about the issue through a public relations campaign, as well as advocate for legislation to fund resources that address mental health and improve the retention rates of officers.
The move highlights a fiscal and staffing crisis affecting police and fire departments throughout the state.
As of June, 118 disability retirement claims have been filed with the state police and fire retirement fund.
For perspective, in 2020 — a difficult year for policing precipitated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the murder of George Floyd and — Minnesota received a total of 241 disability claim applications. In 2021, the state received 307 applications.
In addition, police officers made up roughly 80% of the total disability claims since August 2020. Of those, 80% of claimants said they suffered with PTSD.
Lora Setter, public safety program coordinator for the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust (LMCIT) and 20-year law enforcement veteran, said that police are used to working long shifts and being the helpers, not the ones being helped.
As a result, officers are not used to seeking help.
“There was no crying in baseball,” she said. “You didn’t talk about anything because you were expected to be tough and strong.”
As Minnesota agencies struggle with staffing shortages and increased work pressure, PTSD is not only becoming a glaring problem affecting workers, but is also putting a strain on city budgets. Some officers collect workers’ compensation benefits for PTSD, a lifetime disability pension and, then, medical insurance covered by their former employer until the age of 65.
According to Setter, community taxpayers will not be able to cover the costs for compensation at the current rate of claims.
Since the average age of those seeking PTSD-related pensions in the last 10 years is as young as 42, the LMCIT said that there is a looming fiscal crisis growing within the system.
Jeff Potts, executive director of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, said that with more treatment and support early on in the course of the disease, departments can support officer wellness while preventing retirements and improving retention rates. “We need to reduce the stigma in our profession that PTSD is a sign of weakness, empower public safety professionals to ask for help, and proactively give them the support they deserve,” he said in a press release.
Chris Steward, a retired Minneapolis sergeant, left the department due to PTSD after 14 years on the force. Through his nonprofit, Heroes Helping Heroes, Steward hopes to help cops cope with the trauma. He criticized the public safety initiative as not being able to empathize with the officers on the ground. “It’s these administrators who are in the front office who haven’t done any police or EMS work in 15-plus years,” he said. “They’re completely out of touch with reality.”
Setter of the LMCIT said that many cities simply do not have the funding to pay for mental health resources. She said the initiative plans to get legislators on board to direct more funding to cities and counties to address the issue.