Kevin Wingerson

D uring my Session, I had the opportunity, like all others who attend the National Academy, to receive first-class leadership training. Another import aspect of the academy was the ability to meet and network with law enforcement leaders from around the world. After graduating and returning home, I quickly realized the value in maintaining the many contacts I had acquired during my time at the academy. I wasn’t quite sure what it would look like initially; however, I knew I wanted to participate in our organiza- tion in some way. I was included in several discussions with the Texas Chapter as we were trying to ascertain exactly what our local Chapter was accomplishing for its members. Shortly after, I seized the opportunity to serve on the Texas Chapter Board and began to advertise the many valuable training opportunities, which is the primary purpose of our organization. I was initially responsible for setting up monthly lunches with speakers in the Houston, Texas, region. Also, as a member of the Texas Chapter Board, we were awarded the 2012 National Conference. Prior to the conference, I was asked by the Texas Chapter to run for the National Executive Board – a great honor. I was fortunate to be elected in 2012 and began my official term in January 2013. One of the initiatives that I wish to continue to pursue is Of- ficer Safety and Wellness. Past President Barry Thomas launched this initiative as President. Upon its inception, then President Thomas appointed me as the Chairman of the committee. You see, Barry and I were in the same Session, #223. Like everyone who attended the NA, I was having the best experience of my professional career, until tragedy struck. With two weeks remain- ing in our session, my roommate, without warning, took his own life. I had never experienced such heartbreak, not just in my professional life but also in my personal life – I felt lost. I remem- ber saying, “We don’t do this.” This experience challenged me as I began to research, spending hours in the library to educate myself by answering a complicated question: “Why?” I discovered that I was inexperienced and had not realized the frequency in which the same tragedy occurs within the law enforcement profession nationwide. Suicides in law enforcement actually happen more than felonious and accidental line-of-duty deaths. I put a presentation together to educate those who, like myself, were uninformed about this particular topic. Knowing this, Barry assigned me to the committee. To date, we have made tremendous strides toward making a difference through the Comprehensive Officer Resilience Train-the-Trainer Program ℠, Leadership Forum and our relationship with Acadia Health Care , but we have a long way to go as many of our first responders are self-destructing with addictions to alcohol, narcotics and other drugs, including self-medicating. For these reasons we are driven to make an impact. We must change the culture as it relates to how the commu- nity views Law Enforcement. Additionally, we must address how law enforcement officers view themselves – who they are, who they want to be and what they need to do to become better at all aspects of their lives. We provide the framework and the tools to make that happen. By doing so, they can have a positive impact on everything within and outside of their lives.

But suicide is complex and multi-faceted and, therefore, prevention of suicide is equally complex. Research on the brain, co-existing disorders and social/environmental factors that impact suicide is a relatively new field of study. Amidst this new research, a common theme has surfaced: Suicide prevention is everybody's business. Therefore, the more we normalize conversation about mental health and suicide risk, the more we prevent acute crisis levels where intervention is difficult. The conversation must also promote protective factors (resistance and resilience) to offset suicide risk. The modules covered in the FBINAA Comprehensive Officer Resilience Program ℠ provide participants with tools to build protective factors personally, professionally and socially. While the course itself is not a suicide prevention course, it is a critical piece of building protective factors which can offset the risk for suicide. It is upstream suicide prevention. The resilience training provides tools to help officers recover from traumatic events that actually change the physiology of the brain. These changes are cumulative in nature and the longer they go unchecked the more susceptible officers become to future injury. The trainings also serve the purpose of opening the door to a conversation about mental health in general. The officers are in a safe situation where they can trust those in the room, as they are all other officers. Many of the officers that have participated in the trainings have never had the concepts which are presented explained to them, and do not have an understanding of the neu- robiological basis of the trauma to which they are exposed. These trainings provide that missing element. They help break down the stigma around getting help when needed, and provide “permis- sion” to ask for help. We will continue to work to find assistance for those who need and deserve our attention, for our brothers and sisters in Law Enforcement as well as for those who care most deeply about us, our families. We must make a difference.

Kevin Wingerson, President FBINAA Assistant Chief, Pasadena Police Deptartment

Special thanks to members of the Officer Safety and Wellness committee Joe Collins, Dr. Michael Genovese, and Mary VanHaute for their contributions to this column.

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