HAMMOND — U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., said backup will now be available for police officers troubled with the harrowing work they have to do.
"Law enforcement officers put their lives on the line to protect and serve our communities in Indiana and across the country. At times they experience challenging or horrific situations," which Donnelly said can be as traumatic as combat.
Donnelly spoke Friday about the help to be provided by the Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Act which he and U.S. Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., introduced and which President Donald Trump signed into law last month.
He said the new law will provide tools to establish or enhance mental health services for officers, provide federal grant money to initiate peer mentoring programs and study ways to combat suicide rates among law enforcement officers. He said it authorizes the Department of Health and Human Services to educate mental health professionals about the "challenges our law enforcement community faces."
"That sounds great to me," Hammond Police Chief John Doughty, said, who appeared with Donnelly to relate his own heart-wrenching experience three decades ago.
"I was about four years on the police department," Doughty said. "We had a house fire that turned into a crime investigation. I walked into a house that was smoldering, from blizzard conditions outside and everything inside is still pictured in my mind. Two children, one an infant were stabbed to death by their father as was their mother and grandmother who tried to crawl out the door."
"I had nobody to talk to," he said. "It is a burden I carry to this day. Officers don't just carry one of them. They carry many events over the years. You don't shed that without help. There was nothing when I came on," Doughty said, outside of an old school custom of officers commiserating over a beer. "Alcohol is not a recipe for curing anything."
He said his department's insurance carrier offers limited counseling, but no psychiatric treatment unless the city pays for it. "Men and women nationwide need this service so they can stay good fathers," Doughty said.
Bill Owensby, president of the Indiana Fraternal Order of Police, said there are no reliable statistics on suicide among police officers because, "We don't like to talk about it."
Owensby said a correlation also has been found with officers who have gone through traumatic experiences at work and later have disciplinary issues.
Donnelly said he introduced the new law after hearing about the Indianapolis Police Department's Peer Mentoring Program, which provided volunteer help from other officers. He said grants will help fund similar mentoring efforts on departments that cannot afford it on their own.