(Update: Adding statement in reaction from sheriff candidate Scott Schaier)
BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- The Deschutes County Sheriff's Office announced Tuesday a "Health of the Force" initiative to assist in both the physical and mental well-being of its deputies.
Here's the full news release announcing the program, from Sgt. Jayson Janes:
In 2019, 228 law enforcement officers in the United States took their own lives. The profession of law enforcement is, per the metrics, one of the most potentially dangerous and traumatizing careers in the country. https://www.officer.com/command-hq/supplies-services/public-awareness/news/21119956/report-228-us-law-enforcement-officers-died-by-suicide-in-2019
"The law enforcement profession is stressful on our deputy sheriffs, and their families. I work with great teammates. We want to do all we can to improve and take care of them and their families in order to ensure successful careers in providing excellent public safety and customer service. This enhanced Health of the Force program will provide additional tools and resources for deputies to care for their physical, mental, and spiritual well-being." Sheriff L. Shane Nelson
Deputies are exposed daily to events and incidents of incomprehensible tragedy. They work 12-hour shifts, both days and nights, which often involve overtime. They are expected to function at a high level of awareness and self-control regardless of the crisis and trauma they are called to respond to to ensure public safety. These and other factors generate stressors that can, in time, become detrimental to an officer’s physical and mental health.
“Wellness programs for law enforcement personnel are showing up all over the country, guided by the expertise of psychologists, researchers, physicians, fitness trainers, and spiritual leaders of all stripes. These programs are showing significant promise in the reduction of officer-reported stress, improved job performance and satisfaction, and more effective decision making abilities under stress. “ Dr. Kris Falco, Psychologist, Police Services
For a few years now, the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office has been doing research in the field of law enforcement officer wellness for retention of personnel and expansion of services. Given recent events, we acknowledge the necessity and urgency to launch the new Health of the Force Initiative (HOFI). This 21st Century program, supported in part by grants, will not only enrich our current peer support program, but enhance the current partnership we have in place with the Central Oregon Public Safety Chaplaincy (COPC).
The agency is aware that this is only scratching the surface of changes that need to take place to better serve our community and ensure that all people of Deschutes County are and feel safe. The Health of the Force Initiative is an immediate action the agency is taking to initiate the process for improvement and change.
“Psychological resilience in law enforcement personnel is especially important in their careers and wellness programs are vital in this process. Programs focusing on managing daily stress, cumulative stress, and critical incident stress can be a powerful tool in building resilience. Having a healthy resilient workforce benefits them individually, supports their family, and ultimately benefits the communities they serve.
Access to culturally competent mental health clinicians is an integral part in ensuring the success of a law enforcement wellness program. Due to the current situation with the COVID-19 global pandemic, a unique opportunity has presented itself – the ability for individuals to access critical clinical intervention services electronically using Telehealth. I have been providing treatment using this audio/video technology service since late March 2020 to many law enforcement officers including more members located well outside the Portland metro area with great results. I am honored to be part of DCSO’s mental health clinician team.” – Dr. Garen Weitman, Weitman Psychological Services, PC
Behavioral Health and Substance Dependency Care and Treatment
The Health of the Force Initiative institutes a voucher system for “no questions asked” behavioral health counseling. Ten highly respected local providers have been established so your Deputy Sheriffs will have timely and appropriate opportunities to seek help for themselves and their immediate families. The Initiative includes our administrative and non-sworn employees and our incredible Search & Rescue/Reserve Deputy Sheriff volunteers. We have had several employees utilize this voucher system four counseling.
“Physical, mental, and spiritual wellness is key to a strong and fulfilling career in law enforcement. The COPC enjoys a great partnership with the Sheriff’s Office and is excited to support them as they grow their peer support and wellness program.” Chaplain Joel Stutzman, Central Oregon Public Safety Chaplaincy.
Last fall, we reached out to Dr. David Dedrick. Dr. Dedrick is a board-certified sleep specialist and medical director for the St. Charles Sleep Centers in Bend and Redmond. He has been in practice in Central Oregon since 2002. We are scheduled to have cardiac scans for those who want to participate in individual sleep studies to determine their quality of sleep. We are providing yoga and chair massage to on-duty deputies and promoting mindfulness training. These are holistic practices shown to successfully relieve and reduce stress. In developing the Initiative we partnered closely with the Bend Police Department whose officer wellness program received high marks in the 2019 U.S. Department of Justice Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness study - https://cops.usdoj.gov/RIC/Publications/cops-p371-pub.pdf
The Sheriff’s Office is currently offering heart evaluations and calcium scans for our staff and their spouses. We have reached out to Sigma Tactical Wellness to conduct these evaluations. Sigma has shown potential in eliminating catastrophic effects of cardiovascular disease amongst first responders.
Proper exercise and diet are also important for effective stress management. We are investing in our La Pine substation to provide a gym using some donated exercise equipment. In addition, funds are being budgeted and grants are being sought for a modular building to be purchased in the future for gym and training space at our Bend public safety campus.
The Sheriff’s Office received a grant (rom the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services) of over $111,000 to be used for our peer support program. The peer support program provides our public safety employees an opportunity to receive physical, psychological and emotional support through times of personal or professional crisis. This money will be used to provide training and technology to members of the peer support team, as well as therapy referrals.
This Initiative will ensure our employees are healthy and properly prepared to contribute to our public safety mission. To implement this Initiative all DCSO leaders, supervisors, and managers will receive training to better prepare themselves to participate and promote this critical program actively and constructively to our staff.
“The mental well-being of the men and women who serve and protect our communities is every bit as important as their physical health and safety. Our nation’s law enforcement officers—and their civilian colleagues—hear and see things every day that most of us are fortunate we never have to imagine,” Phil Keith Director Office of Community Oriented Policing Services U.S. Department of Justice Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness.
Bend police Officer Scott Schaier, who is running against Nelson for sheriff in the Nov. 3 election, has made a wellness program one element of his plans, if elected. He provided the following statement to NewsChannel 21 Tuesday night about the new initiative:
"Sheriff L. Shane Nelson’s sprint to develop a deputy wellness program four years into his tenure and 28 days prior to the election is too little, too late.
"Law enforcement agencies all over the United States, to include local partners of the Sheriff’s Office in Deschutes County, have provided wellness programs to their employees for many years as a method to preserve their essential human investments.
"In speaking with staff throughout DCSO, as well as the Deputy’s Association leadership, there has not been discussion of a wellness program until after my campaign released its platform for change at the Sheriff’s Office early this year.
"I am disappointed that Sheriff Nelson has decided to wait over 4 years to provide real, meaningful support to his staff; to tout this plan 3 weeks before Election Day should make us all seriously consider his true motivation. This is yet another example of a complete lack of leadership and foresight by the executive of this agency. The staff at the Sheriff’s Office and voters of Deschutes County deserve better.