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Taylorsville Journal

Taylorsville Police officers now have access to a state-grant-funded program to assist with their mental wellbeing

Oct 12, 2023 02:56PM ● By Carl Fauver

Taylorsville Police Department Lt. Jaren Fowler, Office Manager Brandy Stephens and Chief Brady Cottam (L-R) are coordinating the agency’s new first responders mental wellness program. (TVPD)

Taylorsville City Council members are always happy to accept free money. In fact, just like you and me, it’s probably one of their favorite things to do.

So, when the Utah Department of Public Safety recently offered the city’s 2-year-old police department an $80,000 grant, it was a swift and unanimous vote to accept it. The funding is earmarked for the “purpose of assisting with the costs of providing mental health resources to police first responders.”

“This is a big thing for us, and it was in the forefront of our discussions when we first began to create the Taylorsville Police Department,” Chief Brady Cottam said. “Cops see and go through things the ‘Average Joe’ never has to see. ‘Counseling’ cannot be a bad word. They need someone to talk to. It has to be OK to not be OK.”

The $80,000 grant has allowed the police department to contract with a private, licensed psychiatrist. The doctor has already started to meet, one-on-one, with some of TVPD’s 66 sworn officers.

“I sent a memo to the officers telling them they have one year to set their appointment and talk with the doctor for one hour,” Cottam continued. “This is mandatory. All of the officers will have at least one session. Those who want multiple sessions can schedule them. I’m requiring it of everyone to help remove any lingering stigma about receiving mental counseling.”

Cottam credits his agency’s civilian office manager Brandy Stephens with securing the funding.

“This was actually one of the easiest grant requests I have ever done – and I have been writing requests for years,” Stephens said. “Once the state legislature created the pool of money, it was available to police departments across the state. I requested $120,000 and we got $80. This is one-time funding for now; but we can write state and federal grant requests in the future to try to receive more money.”

Stephens also added, officers’ spouses and children are eligible to meet with the counselor, as are retired police first responders. 

Stephens has been with the local police agency nearly 20 years: when it was first a stand-alone agency… then, when it was part of the County’s Unified Police Department… and now, as a stand-alone agency again, since July 1, 2021.  

“Back when I started, officers never wanted to see the ‘shrink’ – it carried such a stigma,” she added. “If an officer did see a counselor back then, they didn’t want anyone to know about it. Thankfully, those feelings are changing.”                                    

Contracting their new psychiatrist is not the only way the Taylorsville Police Department is placing an emphasis on officers’ mental health. The agency is also now aggressively working to establish a peer support program. 

“We are building an entire wellness program, which is more than just requiring each officer to meet with the psychiatrist,” Cottam said. “Several of our officers recently attended a Utah Peace Officer Standards and Training class to become certified peer counselors. Those trained officers are now able to meet one-on-one with a fellow officer. Any officer requesting the meeting knows they will be speaking with someone who understands the job and the stresses.”

Taylorsville Police Lt. Jaren Fowler was recently named the department’s peer support coordinator. Like civilian Office Manager Stephens, Lt. Fowler has been in Taylorsville law enforcement nearly 20 years.

“Creating our peer support program was such a priority that, back in May, we hosted the POST trainers for the one-day session in the Taylorsville City Council chambers,” Fowler explained. “We had about 20 attendees, some from different agencies, from Utah, Davis and Weber counties. Our Taylorsville Police Department now has 14 state-certified peer support counselors.”

Stephens is one of those as well.

“Two civilian employees, including myself, and 12 sworn officers received the POST peer support training,” Stephens said. “With the state certification, we can now be called out to the scene of an incident if an officer needs help. Our peer support officers won’t receive extra pay. There is no financial incentive. They are doing this because they want to help their fellow officers.” 

The Taylorsville Police Department now has 66 sworn officers and nine civilian employees. Fowler is one of the agency’s two lieutenants.

“Several of those who underwent the POST peer support training in May had already received similar training,” Fowler explained. “But I wanted everyone to receive a refresher so we are all on the same page and working off the same playbook. I anticipate having two platoons of peer support personnel. We’re creating a structured call out system.”

Fowler added, still more officers could undergo the training in the future – although he doesn’t consider that to be critical right now.

“I just want to be sure we have enough peer support people so, if an officer wants to talk, we can connect them with someone they are particularly comfortable with,” Fowler said. “We all have people we get along with better than others – people we jive with. We want our officers to be able to pick a peer support person they like and trust in order to get the most out of it.”

Fowler admits he’s pretty new to the whole notion of peer support counseling. But it’s a coordinator assignment he wanted.

“After 20 years in law enforcement, I feel I have a lot of life experiences that can help me supervise this program,” he added. “When I was promoted to lieutenant, my whole point was not to get more status or money; it was to help others. I want to leave something valuable behind as I approach the end of my career.”

And, like Cottam, he’s pleased to see the evolution in recent years of officers better understanding and accepting their need for mental and emotional support at certain moments in their taxing profession.

“If an officer is not mentally well, how can we expect them to perform at their best?” Fowler concluded. “We are put in a position to deal with people who are often having the worst day of their lives. As police officers, we like to think we can fix it all. But sometimes we need to realize we need to fix ourselves. It’s paramount we keep our officers mentally healthy.” λ

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