Peer-based IMPD counseling program saves lives, careers

INDIANAPOLIS - Police face constant exposure to micro-traumatic events like murders, police-involved shootings, violent accidents and man's everyday inhumanity to man. Left unchecked, it takes a physical, psychological and emotional toll.

Officers with the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department have developed a peer counseling wellness program where officers can check in with other officers on a confidential basis.

Before the wellness program, officers who got in trouble were disciplined and sent back to work, but that is no longer the case.

"Now they try to figure out what they did and try to fix the problem before it rears its ugly head," President of the Fraternal Order of Police Sgt. Bill Owensby said.  

Last Friday, 10-year veteran Officer Bryan Neal allegedly reported for work with a blood-alcohol level nearly three times the legal limit. He is one of five IMPD officers in the past year to be arrested on drunken driving charges. Help is there for the officers, but only if they ask for it.

"If officers don't have a good support mechanism, it can end up in full-blown post-traumatic stress," said Sgt. Aaron Snyder with the IMPD wellness program.

In the past three years, the number of IMPD officers seeking help on their own has increased by 300 percent, officials said. During the same period, disciplinary issues in the department have dropped by 40 percent.

"So if we can save an officer from leaving their career, we have saved the taxpayers and the city some money," Snyder said.

Those who run the department’s wellness program said the culture among officers is slowly changing. It now shows more strength and courage to ask for help than it does to suffer in silence.

Follow Jack Rinehart on Twitter: @jackrinehart6

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