Va. PD receives DOJ grant for mental health, resiliency training

"Our community deserves us to be well. Let's talk about mental health," Chief Brian Layton said

By Adele Uphaus
The Free Lance-Star

FREDERICKSBURG, Va. — The Fredericksburg Police Department is one of 49 agencies nationwide to receive new federal grant funding to support the mental health and resiliency of law enforcement officers and first responders, the department announced this week.

"Our community deserves us to be well," Chief Brian Layton said. "Let's talk about mental health."

The $174,000 grant will pay for two years of training that will be open to all 42 agencies that comprise the Rappahannock Regional Criminal Justice Academy.
The $174,000 grant will pay for two years of training that will be open to all 42 agencies that comprise the Rappahannock Regional Criminal Justice Academy. (Photo/Getty Images)

The $174,000 grant — which was awarded by the Department of Justice's Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, or COPS, with funding authorized by the 2022 Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Act — will pay for two years of training provided by Tania Glenn and Associates that will be open to all 42 agencies that comprise the Rappahannock Regional Criminal Justice Academy.

Glenn's practice is based in Texas and is dedicated to serving the mental health needs of veterans, law enforcement officers, first responders and their families and providing training in the mental health arena.

Layton said there is not a lot of mental health awareness training available to law enforcement.

"Law enforcement as a whole has not done a great job of providing that," he said. "There's just not a lot of training out there."

He said a stigma still exists around the idea of police officers requiring mental health support.

"This is a job that requires you to be tough, mentally and physically," Layton said. "You have to answer a tough call and then regroup and answer the next after having seen horrible things. But when it's your worst day and you call 911, you want a police officer who shows up who is well. The community deserves that."

[RELATED: How leaders can help build police officers’ resiliency skills]

Glenn has provided in-service training in recent years to the Fredericksburg Fire Department and to the Fredericksburg Police department.

Layton said he made the workshop she offered this spring mandatory for all employees.

While Glenn was in town, Layton received an email from the COPS office about the new grant opportunity. He reached out to retired Fredericksburg Fire Chief Eddie Allen, who had worked to bring Glenn to the area before and who is now employed with the police department.

Allen worked with grant writer Don Owens and Sen. Mark Warner's office to apply for the funding. Warner's office submitted a letter of support, as did other local sheriffs.

Warner said in a statement that he is "proud to support this request for funding and am glad to know that first responders in Fredericksburg will be better able to seek the help they need thanks to these federal dollars."

"Every day, first responders put their lives on the line to care for people experiencing some the most traumatic moments of their lives. In return, we should ensure that these brave individuals have the resources they need to cope with the mental and emotional stressors that are so common in this line of work," he said.

[RELATED: Mental wellness check-ins: What they are and how they help]

Layton and Allen were "elated" when they heard earlier this fall that they would receive the grant.

"For an agency our size, and for only 49 other agencies in the country to receive this — we feel really great about that," Allen said.

Layton said he couldn't wait to inform his staff about the "new program that will make us healthier."

Starting in January, new recruits will receive an introduction to mental health awareness from Glenn or her staff as part of their initial certification.

"The training of our law enforcement officers includes an in-depth study of the law, responding to calls, tactics to keep communities and officers safe, and how their biases may impact their interaction with the public they serve," said Mike Harvey, executive director of the Rappahannock Regional Criminal Justice Academy, in a press release about the grant. "However, there is little training to help officers cope and heal from the psychological traumas they will experience in this profession."

The grant will also pay for in-service training accessible to all member agencies in the Criminal Justice Academy, for support in developing or strengthening peer support teams, for awareness training for family members and for individual counseling sessions as needed.

Funding will be available through 2024 and Allen hopes there will be an opportunity to reapply.

Layton said mental health and wellness has become a priority for the Fredericksburg Police Department in the past three years.

Last year, the department held its first annual golf tournament to raise money for employee wellness efforts and the second was held this fall.

Layton said he is excited about the opportunity to expand the focus.

"I am thrilled dozens of law enforcement agencies in the commonwealth will now have access to training crucial to the line of work," he said. "This will benefit first responders and everyone they interact with."

DOWNLOAD: Digital Edition: Smash the stigma: Building a culture that supports officer wellness


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