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Flathead Valley law enforcement looking for better mental health options

Posted at 3:13 PM, Jul 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-16 17:13:48-04

Flathead County Sheriff Brian Heino told MTN that they have had two officer-involved shootings and two drownings within a span of a couple of months.

"From my recollection being here 18 years I've never seen it. This is something, again, we've never seen before," said Heino. "Before we had an officer-involved shooting they were 10 years apart or 15 years apart."

And the high volume of tragic calls are taking a toll on his team.

"You can really see the stress among our folks now," he said. "It is more trying work with each other. That is the part about law enforcement. We have the bond as well. We are able to vent to each other about what we see everyday."

Heino said that he's not sure what's causing this uptick in crime, but thinks it may be the uncertain times we're living in due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kalispell Police Chief Doug Overman explained the stigma around talking about mental health in law enforcement is improving.

"I think, early on in my career there was still some bravado where we just didn't do that," said Overman. "As we understand the science more and each other more, we understand that more and we're more willing to talk about it."

But sometimes it's difficult separating your personal life and the horrors you see on the job. As a father of three, Heino referenced the triple murder suicide in Olney his office responded to in June. A 3-year-old girl was a victim in the crime.

"As a parent when you're dealing with those environments, small children specifically, they're dead or severely injured," he said. "You can see it in the faces of everyone that worked out there. There was a dramatic effect on all those who worked on it."

While law enforcement have access to mental health resources, both Heino and Overman say they're limited. Emergency responders have Drew Bruckner who is a chaplain that works with victim's families as well as law enforcement.

Overman said that it's challenging finding the right expert to relate to.

"One of the challenges people feel in any emergency service is how do you talk someone about some of the tragedies that we see on a daily basis in the field," he said. "How could someone empathize with maybe a young person committed suicide and we have to respond to that."

Overman added that law enforcement is one of the highest professions with death by suicide.

According to bluehelp.org, almost 100 officers lost their lives to suicide in 2020.

Overman asks anyone with a counseling background and experience with law enforcement to reach out so they can start building mental health resources. You can contact the Kalispell Police Department at (406) 758-7780.