CHAPEL HILL, NC – Law enforcement officers risk their lives every day to protect and serve their communities.
In fulfilling this role, officers can find themselves in high stress situations which can often be traumatic. There has long been a stigma around seeking mental health help in the law enforcement community, but that has changed in recent years.
“Nothing really to convey from the surveillance report, we had something earlier today, just check your email for more details on that,” said Patrol Sgt Joseph Haywood.
So begins the night shift at Chapel Hill Police Department.
“Suspicious person who’s been in the area, take another look at this, be on the lookout for this,” Haywood continues.
Haywood leads a team of around 10 agents in these nightly pre-shift meetings. Then he walks over to his patrol car to make sure the lights and siren sounds are okay.
After a quick scan of the rest of the exterior of the car, Haywood walks into the car, activates his body camera, and is ready to take to the streets.
“Right now, we’re just going out and we’re going to go around. I can check a few calls just to see if the officers need anything, ”Haywood said.
He will spend most of the night, until sunrise, patrolling these streets, following every call and attending to the needs of his officers. So far, it’s a calm night.
“That’s about normal for a Wednesday,” Haywood said.
Others are not so serene. Haywood says he’s been at countless crime scenes that have taken their toll on his mental health.
“Ultimately it’s going to affect you one way or another, and I’ve learned that the hard way over time,” said Haywood.
He says everyone deals with these particularly difficult crime scenes in their own way.
“My wife is a school psychologist. She has been there for me for a long time and has helped me a lot in many situations, ”said Haywood.
But, of course, not all agents have this kind of access.
That’s why, starting last week, all North Carolina Sheriff’s Offices and Police Departments will need ongoing training in effective mental health strategies.
In addition, before an officer is hired, they will need to complete an in-person psychological examination to determine if they can perform their duties properly.
“Dealing with stress and calls that leave a memory or an image or that affect you psychologically – we deal with them all the time. Unfortunately, it gets to the point where it’s normal for us to see this stuff, when it’s really not normal, ”says Haywood.
This is all part of a new law known as Support the police in mental health.
“I think it’s great. We know before they get into this career if there are any issues or if we can sort them out early on. I also think it’s something that should be. pursued throughout your career because you are constantly struggling with stress, ”said Haywood.
Haywood says too often that officers feel they need to hide their true feelings.
“The stigma is you push that stuff down and bury it,” Haywood said.
He hopes the bill will change that perception and give officials across the state the resources they need to navigate difficult circumstances.
“The most important thing I say to my guys and daughters on this shift, we have to take care of ourselves before we can take care of anyone else,” said Haywood.