LEAPS program helps law enforcement officers deal with stress

LEAPS program helps law enforcement officers deal with stress

GULFPORT, Miss. (WLOX) - The scene in Hancock County at the shooting death of Lt. Michael Boutte was traumatic. Not so obvious was the likely personal trauma on deputies dealing with his death.

Enter the Law Enforcement Alliance for Peer Support.

“I’m proud of my guys response to this horrible event a couple of days ago,” said director Tim Rutledge. “And, I think they were on scene within six minutes doing peer support, taking care of other officers emotionally. It was a horrible, horrible day for Mississippi law enforcement.”

Tim Rutledge began the all-volunteer program in 2005. About 800 officers from different agencies in Mississippi have been trained to help their brothers and sisters in blue deal with crises through privileged counseling.

“These crises occur on average five to 15 times a day,” Rutledge said.

And it’s not just officer-involved shootings.

“This has a toll obviously,” said Rutledge. “The life expectancy of a career cop is only 59. We’re very high in divorce; high in alcoholism. We are the No. 1 occupation that is assaulted - 72 times moreover. Second is taxi cab drivers.”

Rutledge said LEAPS is an essential program that has proven successful.

“We have taken guns out of officers hands,” said Rutledge. “We have saved marriages, lives, careers.”

The training is through a 32-hour course, and one of those officers trained is Hanna Hendry, with the Gulfport Police Department.

“We get exposed to so many things,” she said. “And so, sometimes that service is just an officer that’s like, ‘Hey, I know you’re a LEAPS counselor. I saw something today that’s just not sitting right with me.’“

She became involved because mental health is her passion.

“I feel like I’ve done something good every time I leave a department or even helping out with my own officers because your providing a service these officers might not be able to get when they go home,” Hendry said. “They may not have a loved one at home that they can talk to about these things.”

For more information on this program, check out its website: http://www.msleaps.org/

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