By Jessica Mathews /

Domestic violence, fatal crashes, child predator situations, chases and shootings are just some of the incidents the law enforcement community has to deal with – which undoubtedly can take a toll on an officer’s mental health.

The daily stress of the job and the effect on mental health for law enforcement was the focus of a virtual office hours event Friday afternoon hosted by Republican State Representative Bob Bezotte of Marion Township. He was joined by Livingston County Undersheriff Jeff Warder. It was stated that those out on the road deal with all kinds of calls and incidents on a daily basis, have to make split second decisions and often times see people at their worst - which takes a toll on mental health and many times, an officer’s family and loved ones have to deal with the repercussions.

Bezotte and Warder said it’s important to raise awareness about the mental health issues and help the public understand what these men and women go through. Both commented that law enforcement officers and first responders in general work in very stressful environments and deal with all kinds of critical incidents on a daily basis and it’s important to keep track of their mental health.

Bezotte is the former Livingston County Sheriff and served in various roles throughout his lengthy law enforcement career before being elected. He says law enforcement has been reforming since 1973 and the profession has gotten very specialized and it takes a special person to actually do the job correctly. Bezotte said different incidents can really take a toll on a deputy or officer and stressed that it’s important to make sure they know they’re supported and can take the time they need to get their mind right.

Bezotte commented the department would give someone two weeks off with pay if they were involved in a critical incident or situation and give them the option to speak privately with a psychologist. He said it was a huge asset but acknowledged it’s not something every department can afford to do. Bezotte said they made sure the employee knew it was not disciplinary and nothing was put into a personnel file but they wanted to make sure when that person got back into a patrol car that their mind was right and they were ready to perform. He added that when departments don’t do that, it can be a ticking time bomb.

Warder commented that it has been an extremely stressful year for their staff and all first responders with the pandemic but also combined with all of the civil unrest surrounding law enforcement. Before coming to Livingston County, Warder spent 25 years with the Eaton County Sheriff’s Office. He said that the mental health side of things was always kind of a secret and the old mentality was to keep quiet and deal with it, which some do more easily than others.

Warder said when he started out, there was an attitude that you take calls, go home and then do it all over again. He said the thought from management was that responding to these types of incidents is what someone signed up for and part of the job and that was just the mentality. Warder said things started changing in the mid-90’s and people realized they had to do something for officers and their mental health in dealing with all the stress – but again their families and loved ones.

Warder said there are programs and policies in place to deal with certain incidents that officers are involved in and it’s important they have support from leadership and know they can take the time they need to get right and come back when they’re ready. He noted there is an official peer support team at the Sheriff’s Office and they have policies in place regarding how and when to utilize the team and what’s expected of an employee that might be involved in a critical incident. That could involve a debriefing, taking paid time off or seeing a psychologist but he says they don’t just force someone to come back, they make sure they’re ready.

Also discussed was how officers have specialized training for when approaching different situations and dealing with people with different medical histories or other mental health issues. There’s training centered on how to talk to people in crisis as well as specialized autism awareness training. For those suffering from mental health issues that officers come in contact with, whether adults or children, Warder said they contact referral forms through a great partnership with Community Mental Health to make sure people get the help they need. Locally, there are also diversion programs and partnership with the courts and schools that Warder said have been very successful and a great avenue for people who are truly struggling and need the help.

Bezotte further highlighted an $80 (m) million, GOP-led House plan to support law enforcement officers, create stronger communities and help recruit and retain officers. Bezotte’s measure included in the plan earmarks $10 (m) million for body cameras, which will not be mandatory and left up to departments to decide.