BAY COUNTY, Fla. (WMBB) — An officer’s day can change in an instant and one call can impact a person in uniform for the rest of their lives.
“We’re seeing them on the worst days of their life but we’re seeing that every day with multiple people,” said Bay County Sheriff Tommy Ford.
Over the years, Ford says the topic of mental health in the law enforcement profession is more welcomed and accepted.
“It’s a relief to me to see the profession as a whole start to talk about this kind of stuff and have avenues for help and that’s absolutely critical. We’ve seen over the years the damages that can be done by the things that we see and that we have to do ” Ford said.
One avenue the sheriff’s office has created for officers to get help is through a free counseling program.
“Deputies can call a counseling helpline and it’s pretty neat because it can cover anything to if you’re having financial problems, they can transfer you to a financial counselor, to a mental health counselor, marriage counseling,” Ford said.
The program is also about education.
“They can learn to recognize the signs of when they’re becoming overly stressed or when something’s causing them issues and ways to cope with that and get help,” he said.
Even though they can get help, Ford says officers still may respond to situations differently than those who don’t wear a badge.
“When we’re at work, we have to be hyper-vigilant and always on alert and our world can change in a second depending on the next call. Sometimes we become numb to certain things and I think that’s a coping mechanism as a fellow human being,” he said.
One incident Ford says he will never forget is the active shooter situation that took place on Beck Avenue in May of 2018.
“I’ve had some moments after that incident that I know were related to that. I was going to dinner with my wife in St. Andrews a couple of months ago and ended up going down Beck avenue and pulling over on the side of the road right across the street from that apartment and just really kind of telling her about it and reliving kind of what we went through there and it hit me hard,” Ford said.
Ford says he knows his officers may soon deal with the same thing and encourage all to speak up in times of stress.
“By recognizing you realize you’re not losing your mind and these are natural stress reactions and there are positive ways to deal with that,” Ford said.