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A tough year on police officers highlights the importance of strong mental health

Posted at 12:42 PM, Oct 13, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-14 11:25:13-04

MILWAUKEE — Earlier this year, a 19-year veteran of the Milwaukee Police Department, Officer Thomas Kline, died by suicide.

TMJ4 News doesn't typically report on individual suicides but with the family's blessing, we hope to bring awareness to the importance of officer wellness and mental health.

"The real threat is depression," said Capt. Derrick Harris at Kline's memorial. "The real threat is loneliness. The threat is helplessness. The threat is feeling like there's no way out."

Harris was Kline's commanding officer. He passed along a final message.

"If we can do anything to honor his memory, the first thing we do is please take care of each other," Harris said.

Blue HELP, an organization that tracks law enforcement suicides across the country, estimates 236 officers died by suicide in 2019. It's more than double the number of officers the FBI reported died in the line of duty last year, which was 89.

The year 2020 has brought more challenges, with boiling tensions between police and the communities they serve. It took a toll on Kline.

"You worked incredibly hard to do good," said MPD Chaplain George Papachristou, reading a eulogy written by Kline's sister. "But I know broad-brush criticisms of police were difficult for you to handle."

"People seem to forget that officers are human beings," said MPD Capt. Jim MacGillis.

MacGillis, along with Officer Kai Anderson, is part of the department's wellness team. They focus on officers' physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health.

"Wellness is really something that isn't easy," Anderson said. "It's something you have to really train for every single day."

Because what officers see on the job sticks with them.

"It's hard to go to some of these calls we see right and you can't take that home to your family," said Brian Fredericks.

Fredericks is with the Wisconsin Injured Law Enforcement Officers Resource Council (WILEORC), as well as the local chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Peace Officers.

The organizations focus on peer support for officers across the region, especially for those who may not have the resources to properly address officer wellness.

They're not affiliated with any department, which gives members a sense of confidentiality and a chance to build relationships with fellow officers.

"Having those sort of lifelines out there, I think it's just, it's just another layer of protection," Fredericks said.

Protection from a threat we cannot see, only feel.

"I pray that your fellow officers hear this and take it to be the foghorn that will lead them into the clearing," Papachristou said at Kline's memorial

If you want to support or learn more about the organizations we talked to in the report, click the links below:

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