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'This stuff does traumatize us': State law enforcement executives film peer support video in Fond du Lac

The video aims to show solidarity and understanding
Posted at 5:45 PM, Nov 02, 2023
  • Law enforcement agencies from across the state gathered in Fond du Lac to film a video showing peer support and solidarity among executive officers.
  • Executive officers say they sometimes neglect their own mental health during crises.
  • The group hopes to show the film to agencies across the country.

Law enforcement officials are no stranger to trauma.
Now, law enforcement executives in Wisconsin will have a new tool for processing emotions after crises.

The Fond du Lac Police Department hosted law enforcement agencies from across the state to film an educational video for police and sheriffs departments. The goal is to show other executive officers that they are not alone.

“If we aren't healthy as a law enforcement leader, then how do we actually lead the people who have to keep our entire community safe?” UW-Oshkosh Interim Police Chief Chris Tarmann said.

The executive peer support group wants to focus on the mental health of officials like police chiefs or sheriffs, many of whom say the job can take a major toll.

“We're human beings,” Waukesha Police Chief Daniel Thompsin said. “We, this stuff does traumatize us and we do need to talk about it.”

Thompson understands the trauma of these difficult situations. He said the emotional aftershock of the Christmas parade attack in 2021 had a profound effect on him.

“About six months after the parade we’re sitting at home watching a Disney show with my 14-year-old daughter,” Thompson said. “I had a tear coming down my eye from a Disney show. My daughter’s like, ‘Are you crying?’ I’m like, ‘I’m not crying.’ But I was. I knew then that there were things I wasn’t dealing with from that Christmas parade that I needed to address.”

He said he sought help from his peers, who could understand his reaction.

“When I started talking to the person, I start talking about things that have been 30 years ago in this profession,” Thompson said. “Because when I came up, we didn't talk about those things. It was like, suck it up. Deal with it.”

Now, he’s hoping to help others through this Wisconsin Law Enforcement Death Response (LEDR) team video.

“Our goal is for this to be a nationwide video for law enforcement agencies,” Thompson said. “State, local, federal, tribal. . . for them to use to encourage executives and law enforcement to be vulnerable and they have a place to go.”

The video shows a police department mourning an officer's death. The aim is to show the deep emotions of a police chief after such a loss.

Law enforcement leaders that participated in the filming said they hope it can demonstrate a sense of solidarity and understanding to other departments.

“It's somebody who's been there, who's seen it or understands it,” Pleasant Prairie Police Chief David Smetana said.

The group hopes to release the film in January 2024.

“Whatever crisis there is, whether it's personal, whether it's work related, whether it's health related, whatever the crisis might be, here's a team that will help them through that,” Thompson said.