From today’s Charleston Gazette:
State Police trying yearly behavioral health screenings
By The Associated Press
State Police are working to implement yearly behavioral health screenings for troopers, based on recommendations from a panel studying suicides among law enforcement.
Joe Thornton, deputy secretary of the state Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, said the goal is to implement all of the committee’s recommendations, though time and resources may cause some delays in putting them into practice.
While the existing system, including confidential counseling services, is adequate, the panel says in its Jan. 2 report to Gov. Joe Manchin that more could be done, including erasing the stigma often associated with seeking help for emotional issues.
It suggested the agency try mandatory screenings for five years.
The agency also should do more to advertise the available mental health services and to help troopers feel more comfortable about seeking treatment.
The panel also recommended making psychological health and stability an integral part of performance ratings and reinforcing the occupational hazards of the job during recruit training.
It also suggests training supervisors identify people who may need help and reviewing how prescribed medicines may affect troopers’ work.
Besides Thornton, the committee included John Linton, vice chairman of the Department of Behavioral Medicine at West Virginia University; John Bianoni, commissioner of the West Virginia Bureau for Behavioral Health; and Carl Berlin, a retired State Police lieutenant.
Manchin sought the review after Cpl. Marlo Gonzales, 39, a 13-year veteran of the force, was found dead last fall in his cruiser from a bullet fired from his service weapon.
His death was the second suicide by a West Virginia state trooper since 1999.
Note: as a West Virginia criminal defense attorney, my immediate thought upon reading this article was, if mental health screenings are mandatory for WV State Police Troopers, then mental health records will definitely exist for all Troopers. In many instances, mental health records are admissible in court as to the credibility of a witness. I can think of no other witness who’s credibility is more important than that of our law enforcement officers. It would be interesting to see what would happen to the flood of motions that would surely be forthcoming if these screenings become mandatory. – John H. Bryan, West Virginia criminal defense attorney.