KPD Chief aims to improve physical, mental health of employees

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Knoxville Police Department Chief Eve Thomas hopes to improve the lives of officers, by improving and expanding the services aimed at ensuring their physical and mental wellbeing.

It’s a need Chief Thomas said she spotted years ago.

“They see things that are not normal. So, they’re going to have responses that are not normal sometime, whether that’s years away or immediately, just like regular people. We’re just regular people,” she said.

2019 marked a record number of police officer deaths by suicide, according to BLUE H.E.L.P., a nonprofit that works to reduce stigmas tied to mental health issues for those in law enforcement.

It’s why Thomas calls the department employee wellness program a passion. It includes exercise opportunities, a peer support group, a chaplain program for officers and their families, and the employee assistance program (EAP). To her, physical and mental health are equally important, given the stresses of the job.

Thomas wants to add to those resources, but also emphasize the importance of using them when help is needed. Thomas plans to require officer check-in with the EAP annually, to become familiar with how to check-in, remind them that it’s available, and remove any stigmas around the services. To Thomas, it complements the require annual physical.

Ultimately, the chief wants to hire a staff psychologist, familiar with police culture, as a resource for officers on a ride-along or in the work-out room.

She thinks it could be an asset for Knoxville Fire Department, too, when the two agencies move to the upcoming new Public Safety Complex.

Emotions can linger for an officer, she explained, especially after calls involving death, domestic violence, or crimes against children.

“There was a time when my husband and I were riding down Cedar Lane. He was recalling riding his bike through the area as a kid, and the different houses he went to and where his friends lived,” Thomas shared. “I’m recalling an elderly lady who died in her home, how we found her…and a murder that happened. I thought, boy, our experiences are different and I’m not right.”

Thomas also wants to extend the wellness programs, such as peer support or exercise opportunities to retired officers, noting the importance of those interactions and shared experience.

“We expect each other to hold up and be tough, but we need to shore each other up as well,” she added.

Ultimately, she thinks the added support would improve service to the community and help recruit more officers.

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