Campus sergeant speaks at mental wellness
Mirka Molina – Contributor
More police die by suicide than getting shot in the line of duty. Police officers have the highest suicide and divorce rates due to the nature of their jobs and their exposure to trauma. This is a reality shared by police at the university.
The police department at the university has a peer support program in which Sgt. Kim Clare is the coordinator. She is also on the statewide list where anyone from another police department can call her if they wish to speak.
“I think dealing with everyday life and being a law enforcement officer and what you endure and see combined is overwhelming sometimes. I think sometimes officers have trouble managing and finding a balance,” said Clare.
Clare has been involved in police wellness long before it had a name. At the university she has become the go-to person when people are struggling with issues on the job or with family. She explains she fell into the role of being that person and slowly became involved in putting together a peer support team.
Before working at the university, Clare worked for the City of New Haven and explained that it took a while for her to adjust herself at the university. She went through a transitional period.
Peer support used to be an optional thing for police departments, but ever since the George Floyd incident and the police accountability bill, a federal bill, every police department must have a peer support team.
Part of the bill is officer-wellness, in which police are required to see a mental health professional once every five years and take periodic drug tests.
Clare explained that in her opinion that was not sufficient, so she was able to get the university’s administration to agree to do check-ins for their team once a year.
“As far as wellness goes, it should be a priority and it wasn’t for a long time, in my opinion.” Clare said. “It has become a priority amongst police departments, and I think everyone realizes there’s a need for it.”
Clare explained that the police culture does not like the word “mandatory” and mental health had a stigma attached to it for the community, let alone police.
“Police culture is like, ‘We are strong. We have this. We can manage it and take care of it.’”
Clare described that she has been through traumatic experiences in her career while working for New Haven. One that stood out was involving a 10-year-old girl’s stepfather molesting the girl in the middle of the night while the mother was at home. She described how that stuck with her for a while.
“Those kinds of cases are tough for anybody, especially when it involves children,” Clare said.
She said she has been in shootings, untimely deaths and homicides. She said the first homicide she went to was a week right out the police academy.
“It was at a bar, and I just remember that we were told by witnesses that the victim was shot outside and ran inside and collapsed on the floor,” she said.
She explained that her boss, at the time, had her ride the ambulance with the victim in case the victim was still alive and could tell her who shot him, but she believed he was already deceased.
She remembers her task at the hospital was to get the time of death. She found out later that the bullet went under his armpit.
“You as a citizen might be exposed to trauma, maybe two or three times in a lifetime. Police are exposed to trauma 100 to 200 times in their lifetime,” Clare said. “We come from big cities. So, we have seen a lot of deaths. Here you have the opportunity to make a real difference in someone’s life. You have more resources and time to spend with people, it’ll be better for them, better for their family and the interaction that they have with the community.”
Interim Chief Kenneth J. Rahn explained that in his police career he has had two close friends commit suicide and has seen the impact it has on the families, children and coworkers.
“It’s great to see that people recognize that it’s ok to ask for help if you need it,” he said.
Wellness for police has become a priority at the university and in a lot of police departments across the state and across the nation.
According to Clare, wellness is not just mental wellness. She says that the police try to focus on physical wellness, spiritual wellness and financial wellness.
She said there is a lot of financial stress that officers go through.
Clare said that officers struggling can contact the Employment Assistance Program and now there is an app where they can get someone on the phone immediately.
Anything criminal or potentially dangerous is obligated to be reported, but there is always help out there.
“Anybody that’s struggling, police officers, they can call me,” said Clare.