Retired Metropolitan Police Department Lt. Randy Sutton certainly knows the dangers that come with being a law enforcement officer.
There is the physical danger. But Sutton said another danger for officers, one rarely discussed, is mental trauma.
“There are a lot of officers across the country who feel abandoned and alone, and the suicide rate is through the roof,” Sutton said. “Especially when you are injured.”
In response, Sutton and several officers across the nation have started a national nonprofit called The Wounded Blue. The goal is to offer peer support for officers who are suffering physically or mentally.
“We started with a team of 10 peer support officers,” Sutton said. “Every one of them has been shot, stabbed or beaten, run over, screwed up and screwed over. So, they’ve all been there, and they want to help. They want to continue to be of service.”
The organization started in May during Police Week in Washington, D.C. The demand for services from the organization has since been overwhelming. The Wounded Blue is now providing peer support for officers all over America.
“Instantly we had more than 50 people volunteer for peer support,” Sutton said. “Everyone is trained and certified as peer support team members. They are called a peer support team. They are there to help people solve problems, because most of the men and women out there don’t know how to navigate the system.”
One retired officer volunteering to help others through The Wounded Blue is Eddie Richardson, formerly of the Lexington County, South Carolina Sheriff’s Department. He was investigating a suspicious vehicle call in 2016 when he was run over.
“Two days later I couldn’t feel anything from my belly button down,” Richardson said in a phone interview.
What followed, according to Richardson, was a legal battle with the county he worked for over health insurance being a part of his retirement. Through online postings and working with The Wounded Blue, he’s found many other officers out there struggle to deal with mental trauma, the physical injuries, and having to work through complex issues like workers’ compensation, Social Security disability and Americans with Disabilities Act rules.
“It made me realize there were others out there suffering,” he said. “I’ve been overwhelmed with the response. I realized there was so much to do and so many people affected.”
Sutton found a way to get all the volunteers, including Richardson, flown to Oklahoma City for training to be peer advocates. The group also created a documentary.
Richardson said his message to officers is to keep fighting and to understand that the mental health issues they are dealing with are normal.
“In a lot of cases we are dealing with people who haven’t talked to anyone in 30 years about what they’ve been through,” Richardson said.
Officers are counseled on what resources and benefits are available in their region and through their departments. They also are informed about charitable resources.
“It’s like one-stop shopping for injured cops,” Richardson said. “It is outrageous the amount of obstacles many officers have to go through after they’ve been wounded. I’ve got a lot of scars on my body, but the biggest ones are in my head, mental trauma, and we try to help.”
Sixteen states are currently represented through 18 peer advocates. Sutton said a primary goal of The Wounded Blue is to offer emotional support.
“I can’t tell you how many cops have told me, ‘I wish I’d died that night. At least my family would be taken care of instead of me being a burden,’” Sutton said. “No police officer injured in the line of duty should have to beg for charity.”
The Wounded Blue is being funded through donations, memberships and sponsorships. To learn more about the Wounded Blue, visit TheWoundedBlue.org or call 725-222-3967.
Contact Glenn Puit at email@example.com or 702-383-0390. Follow @GlennatRJ on Twitter.