LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The Little Rock Police Department has a unit exclusively devoted to the wellness of its employees and now, more than ever, the resources they provide are not only becoming an asset for the department.
It all started back in 2015 when President Obama set up a task force for what 21st century policing should look like. The task force came up with six different pillars for departments across the country to focus.
Michelle Hill, a Wellness Unit Officer, said the last pillar is where this unit comes in: centered around resources that go far beyond the badge and vest.
"For us to be able to be one of those pillars, it is amazing and it'll help officers and families for generations to come," she said.
Within the walls of the Little Rock Police Department's building, one unit has been making a difference, according to Hill, with every phone call they pick-up.
"We're a warehouse of any kind of resource you can imagine," she said.
According to Hill, the Wellness Unit provides support for everyone who is a part of the LRPD family, from peer-to-peer counseling to finance help to relationship advice.
"It's not just sworn, it could be any of our civilian employees, 9-1-1 dispatchers, our records and support, crime scene techs, victim services," she said.
Hill said this direct line of resources has never been more important.
"I believe it's nationally, I believe it's our organization, as well as, kind of our professions as first responders that it's okay to reach out and say, 'I'm not okay and I need somebody to talk to,'" she said.
But, according to Hill, those three words, "I'm not okay," has been viewed as a stain for police officers everywhere.
"We're the strong ones that show up on the scene and we have to just handle it, shove it back down, don't talk about it and it's just been a stigma, plain and simple, it's been a stigma," she said.
A stigma that has had more light shed on it in the past 5 years with national organizations recording police suicides.
According to a study by Blue H.E.L.P., the number of police officers who died in 2019 by suicide was 228, which almost doubled the 132 killed in the line of duty.
Until it got brought to the forefront, Hill said no one really told police officers how to handle their stress on the job.
"You know, they say 'make sure you exercise, make sure you eat right,' but what about the intrusive thoughts? What about if you're not sleeping at night?" she said.
With trauma, COVID, and just the normal stressors of life, Hill said the Wellness Unit is committed to being that beacon of hope.
"This isn't just about the Little Rock Police Department today. This is a legacy," she said.