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Police officer wellness the focus of new department policy in West St. Paul

Updated: November 07, 2019 06:13 PM

In West St. Paul, Interim Police Chief Brian Sturgeon did something last year that surprised a lot of people: he had every officer in his department see a counselor once a year, whether they needed to or not.

Sturgeon said the response to the mandatory counseling was positive, so last month the department modified the policy.

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"We're going to be having our officers go in twice a year to speak with a counselor to get off their chest whatever they need," Sturgeon said in an interview with 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS.

The focus on officer mental health has sharpened in Minnesota in recent years, partially in response to a rise in suicides among law enforcement.

Just this week, two different departments - South St. Paul and Rogers - announced they were each mourning the loss of an officer to suicide.

In a post on the department's Facebook page, South St. Paul urged anyone who is struggling to reach out for help.

"We deal with completely different experiences and circumstances than the general public," said Matt Hagen, president of the Minnesota Fraternal Order of Police.

Hagen said the stigma around seeking help for mental health struggles has started breaking down among the rank and file, noting a fundamental shift between younger recruits and older police officers.

Sturgeon said his department's new program is successful because of the buy-in from officers on the force.

"Our officers see a lot of bad things and we need to ensure that they're dealing with those properly," he said.

The counselors West St. Paul contracts are trained specifically to speak with law enforcement and are available to the officers 24/7.

"We have to understand that the stress that our officers are going through on a personal level and the stress that comes with the job," Sturgeon said.

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Kirsten Swanson

Copyright 2019 - KSTP-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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