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“It will catch up with you,” police share the importance of officers’ mental health

By Dillon Valencia

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DIXON, Ill. (WREX) – With May marking Mental Health Awareness Month, the Dixon Police Department has implemented new programs over the past five years to support the mental health of their officers. In April 2024, they also brought a new therapy dog ​​to the force to support officers after difficult calls.

“You’re going to see blood, you’re going to smell things that you’re going to remember later,” said Ryan Bivins, Detective Sergeant with the Dixon Police Department.

“You’re going to hear things, or you may not hear anything, depending on what your focus is… but the sights, the smells say they stay with you.”

The Dixon Police Department has invested in Peer Support groups, started in 2018, where first responders meet at least once a month or when a critical event occurs, to educate and help each other with topics that are difficult to talk about .

“I want the officers out there to know that it’s OK not to be OK,” said Matt Coffey, a patrol officer with Dixon who has worked in the position for five years.

“(With) time at work, it will catch up with you eventually.”

The Dixon Police Department also recently invested in First Responder Resiliency Programs, which include required therapy sessions and partnerships with the city government and fire chief to ensure officer longevity.

A more recent measure includes the addition of a new therapy dog, Indy, who will join officers and victims at difficult crime scenes.

“We use her for the officers and their traumatic incidents with crime victims,” said Ryan Mcwethy, a School Resource Officer with the Dixon Police Department.

“We can bring Indy in and she can be with the officers. I can talk to the officers and try to take their minds off it and get the healing started.”

Bivins, who as a detective sergeant often responds to the most gruesome crime scenes to begin an investigation.

“We received a call in 2017 about a murder-suicide involving a child,” Bivins said.

“I had a son the same age as that child. I was with the team that responded. That phone call almost changed my career path. I thought about getting out, it just impacted me in a way that I really didn’t see coming.

Due to the close age connection between one of the victims and his son, Bivins began to develop psychological symptoms, including PTSD and depression. Bivins played a critical role in bringing change, helping to create the First Responder Resiliency Program that allowed officers to get the mental help they were looking for.

“People think we have a gun and a badge and that we are superheroes. Well, we’re just like everyone else… we feel… we have emotions,” Bivins said.

Coffey, who has been with the department for five years, is the first on the scene for everything from routine checks to homicide calls. He recently responded to a death call involving a person who had been deceased for several days. This phone call was the one that affected him the most.

“Her daughter called us and said she hadn’t heard from her mother in a week,” Coffey said.

“What really strikes me is that the smell is just not nice. I knew immediately that we had a deceased person in the house.”

The Dixon Police Department encourages all officers, regardless of where they work, to seek help.

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