Law enforcement peer support training happening in Bay St. Louis

Officers are helping other officers approach mental health to help life saving differences.
Published: Jun. 8, 2023 at 7:27 PM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

BAY ST. LOUIS, Miss. (WLOX) - Law enforcement officers from as far as Texas and Georgia are undergoing a peer support training class this week in South Mississippi.

For years, mental health was a taboo topic for those who wear a badge.

“With law enforcement, if we took anti-depressants, it was stigma,” said Law Enforcement Alliance for Peers director Tim Rutledge. “’You need to grow up, you need to man up, get tougher.’ And that was just wrong.”

Rutledge is a 29-year veteran of the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics. He teaches law enforcement peer support training and has seen firsthand the culture change toward mental health.

“We’re seeing our suicide rates drop, we’re seeing alcoholism drop because we’re finally learning there’s better ways to cope with this stress,” he said.

“This class, man, I’m telling you it helps deal with it,” said Deputy Chief Timothy Hill.

Hill is with Wiggins Police Department. With years of service, he knows the daily strain on officers.

“A live shooting, or it can go to a car wreck or a child dying — all of those things, the officer holds inside,” he said. “We don’t have counselors onsite right then to talk about it. Sometimes you just have to go back to work, and that can be bad at times. You’re holding those things in and coming home, and people don’t understand why he isn’t talking, why she isn’t talking.”

This class trains officers on dealing with stress not only for themselves but also for their brothers and sisters behind the badge. That stress can include losing fellow officers in the line of duty — tragedy officers in Bay St. Louis are still processing.

“They immediately responded to us on December 14 and they were out here, and consistently out here on a routine basis,” said Chief Toby Schwartz of Bay St. Louis Police Department. “We had officers from Pascagoula, who are peers certified, Hancock County Sheriff’s Office, Picayune PD and many others. Too many to name. They responded and came out. What they do is, not only are they talking to us, they’re with us on the day of the events and they’re checking on the officers off-and-on. Sometimes it’s as simple as a text or phone call, or other times, they’ll drop in and check on you. It’s a great program.”

“It’s a challenging class emotionally...” said Officer Jordan Jones, also with BSLPD. “...and that’s okay because it also brings out some of that mental health awareness. I do think this is something that every officer should go through.”

Click here to subscribe to WLOX News on YouTube: Keep up with South Mississippi news, sports, and local events on our YouTube channel!