As Bend Police Department approaches the launch date for a new mental health crisis team, the department is also turning inward to the mental health of the officers on the force.
Combined with regular midday yoga classes, which the department started offering last year, the department wants to incorporate more training in mindfulness — an increasingly popular practice of self-awareness and stress reduction. Together with the Bend Fire Department, the agency is also seeking a behavioral health specialist to provide day-to-day mental health support.
The stresses of police work can have significant long-term effects: late-night shifts, physical demands and seeing criminal activity and traumatic events on a daily basis all take their toll.
“Incidence of post-traumatic stress disorder, suicide and mental illness in law enforcement are pretty well-known,” Bend Police Sgt. Brian Beekman, who coordinates the department’s training, said Friday. “Our suicide rates exceed our deaths out in the field. From my vantage point … we can train (in) officer safety and we can be concerned about armed people confronting us, and we probably should be, but that’s not our greatest killer.”
Mindfulness encourages thoughtful reflection and attention to the present moment, and proponents say the technique can help police react more compassionately and fairly to stressful situations.
The behavioral health specialist, who will likely be employed as a part-time contractor and split time between the agencies, needs to be approved by the Bend City Council first.
Beekman is hopeful that having someone with a mental health background at the department will help police be more effective and healthy. The specialist will build relationships with officers and be able to provide referrals to psychological or psychiatric experts should an officer need therapy.
“The idea is to lay the groundwork for trauma support and education,” Beekman said.
Todd Riley, training captain at the Bend Fire Department, said that while the effect of car crashes or homicides on those involved in the incident is often “obvious,” it’s harder to see when first responders are emotionally or mentally affected by these traumatic scenarios.
“Many times we can do better in taking care of our own people,” Riley said in an interview Friday. “And when you have an embedded mental health professional in your organization, it helps to kind of demystify what it means to be healthy mentally.”
Bend Police Chief Jim Porter said he supported the wellness program on behalf of both his staff and the Bend community.
“(The wellness program) serves a business need, because officers who have a clearer mind provide a better service, officers who are physically fit and more flexible reduce the costs of injuries,” Porter said Friday. He added: “From a leadership side … we owe it to these folks to give them tools to make them successful.”
— Reporter: 541-383-0376,