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$100K grant helps Wyo. PD offer free mental health training for first responders

The Casper Police Department will offer training to first responders from nine different agencies

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By Mary Steurer
Casper Star Tribune

CASPER, Wyo. — The Casper Police Department is organizing free mental health training for first responders and law enforcement in central Wyoming after being awarded a $100,000 grant from the Wyoming Department of Health.

The goal is to help those agencies build and sustain their own in-house support groups, said Cpt. Richard Brown.

By nature of their jobs, police and emergency responders are exposed to more traumatic experiences than the average person — and they need very specific support to process that trauma in a healthy way, Brown said.

But that support is hard to come by in Wyoming.

With the Department of Health grant, the Casper Police Department hopes to set up free trauma training for its employees, as well as employees at the Evansville, Mills and Douglas police departments, Natrona County Sheriff’s Office, Natrona County Fire Department, Wyoming Highway Patrol, the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation, Banner Wyoming Medical Center and the Memorial Hospital of Converse County.

Usually, agencies have to send their employees outside of Wyoming in order to receive trauma training, which can be costly, he said.

“It saves them from having to send people out-of-state, and it saves them from having to pay for registration,” Brown said.

[READ: 6 trauma management best practices for police organizations]

Casper City Council is expected to on Tuesday finalize a contract between the Wyoming Department of Health officially accepting the grant.

According to an attachment to the contract draft, the grant money will go toward peer support training and emotional survival trainings, suicide prevention seminars for law enforcement and their families and “critical incident debrief training” — which teaches people how to provide psychological support to others in the immediate aftermath of a traumatic event.

While the police department is still working out the details, the plan is to host the training in Casper, either at a department facility or local community space, Brown said.

The grant money comes from the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), a pandemic relief package passed by Congress in 2021.

As part of its plan for spending the money, the Wyoming Legislature last year gave the Department of Health $1 million ARPA dollars to create a grant program geared toward improving access to mental health support for first responders and law enforcement across the state.

The grant was made available to municipal and county law enforcement agencies and emergency medical service providers.

Due to federal deadlines attached to ARPA money, the grant expires at the end of 2026, so Brown said most of the training will take place over 2023 and 2024.

[WATCH: How to build and sustain an effective officer wellness program: A Policing Matters Special]

Law enforcement officers have the highest suicide rate of any profession.

Both police officers and firefighters are more likely to die by suicide than on the job, according a 2018 study commissioned by the Ruderman Family Foundation, a nonprofit aimed at disability, inclusion and mental health awareness.

Meanwhile, emergency medical services clinicians — like paramedics and EMTs — are more than 30% more likely to take their own lives than the general public, according to a 2018 report that analyzed Arizona suicides from 2009 to 2015.

But the public conversation surrounding mental health care for police and first responders in Wyoming is still very new, Brown said. Last year, Gov. Mark Gordon’s mental health summit was the first statewide conference to call attention to the issue, Brown said. The Wyoming Police Officer’s Association is also planning its first mental health summit of its own later this year.

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