Local law enforcement continue to fight against mental health crisis among officers

FARGO, N.D. (Valley News Live) Troubling times for Minnesota law enforcement following the suicides of two police officers this week.

St. Paul officer Cory Slifko and Rogers officer Blake Neumann both died on Wednesday. Neumann was a K9 officer since 2014, while Slifko was a 20-year veteran.

Their deaths have highlighted the continuing mental health crisis among law enforcement, and have added to the already 188 U.S. officer suicides just in 2019.

"You might get done wrapping up on a horrible unattended death and having to see someone who has lost their husband or their wife, or even a mom or a dad, and then you have to go on to the next call or traffic stop and you have to be OK," Jessica Schindeldecker with Fargo Police said.

Looking back at her first day on the job, Schindeldecker says it wasn't ideal. She says she responded to two back to back unattended death calls, and the calls were hard to shake.

"It's not something that you just go to and then forget about," she said.

Schindeldecker says eventually the stress of the job lead to occasional night terrors— Something most officers say they've experienced at least once.

Schindeldecker says thanks to a fellow officer, she later got help from one of the many mental health programs offered—And that's a move Clay County Sheriff Mark Empting says wasn't always something law enforcement wanted to do.

"We want them to reach out to somebody and deal with it. They're not going to be labeled. You know, that was always the thing back in the day, is you'd be labeled and you would get your gun taken away," Empting said.

Both say there's always a peer crisis team available for debriefs and support after difficult incidents, as well as wellness programs with easy access to local mental health counselors.

"It's not like a light switch, it really isn't. You gotta find a way to balance it, and if you need a little help balancing it, it's encouraged that you reach out," Empting said.

He says between large call-loads and how law enforcement can be portrayed, there's a great deal of mental distress on officers everywhere.

"The atmosphere that we have to work in now isn't easy," Empting said.

Empting added tragedies like the killing of Fargo Police Officer Jason Moszer add to the anxiety, grief and overall mental overload officers must deal with.

Moszer died after being shot in the line of duty during a standoff in North Fargo on February 10, 2016. The response was to 308 9th Avenue North, where Marcus Schumacher was barricaded in a home and actively firing at officers.

"There are a lot of things that we see that we wish our mind could forget, but we can't unfortunately," Empting said.

Both Empting and Schindeldecker say this week's officer suicides hit close to home, but say they are lucky to have a community that backs them and departments who support the mental well-being of all their officers.

If you ever need help and are struggling with suicidal thoughts, please call the suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255.