MIAMI (CBSMiami) – A new program designed to help law enforcement officers get through trauma will rely on their own peers. Training is underway now.

“Myself, as well as my old department we’ve had to take guns away from people who threaten to kill themselves,” South Miami Police Assistant Chief Charles Nanney said.

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It may be surprising, but the reality is, everyone struggles, though too many times, Nanney has seen officers bottle up emotions that manifest into a crisis.

“You go to the next call that kind of stress builds up, you go to a third call and you see a kid that was hurt or you see somebody bloody from a crash,” he explains

Daily work stress, combined with personal pressures may be leading to suicides or mental breakdowns. The FBI has just started collecting data, but research has long shown that police are more likely to die by suicide than in the line of duty.

“Of course there are mechanisms in place to get them help but we want to get the person help before it gets to that point,” Nanny relayed.

Yet for too long, those mechanisms have failed to curb suicides.

“So that’s what we’re trying to do now is to break that barrier to make sure we’re all communicating and letting go of maybe the stress that you have inside of you,” South Miami Chief Renee Landa said.

Mental well-being is one of his key focuses since he took over as President of the Miami-Dade County Association of Chiefs of Police earlier in 2021.

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“There’s a lot of talk about officer wellness and peer support and a lot of it seems to be repeating a similar approach that is very much based on helping people cope with the struggle,” Josh Goldberg, Boulder Crest Institute Exec. Dir.

Goldberg leads the Boulder Crest Foundation, a non-profit that was initially designed to help combat veterans with PTSD. Now it has developed a new approach for first responders. This Thursday it was being used to train the top brass at several departments in Miami-Dade. The class will last 5 days and can be scheduled alongside other routine training.

“One of the things we seek to do is bring in external training but it enables men and women in the same profession to support each other and to lean into each other and that’s something they haven’t been doing for far too long,” Goldberg explained.

The training teaches participants to integrate healthy ways of managing struggles, based on the science of posttraumatic growth.

“A lot of cops don’t trust psychologists but they’ll talk to another cop,” Nanney said.

The approach also relies on building a peer-to-peer network of trained personnel, some small departments might partner up with other local agencies.

“It’s between me, I’m the one being counseled and my peer counselor, he or she, I’m talking to them, I’m the one spilling my guts, I feel better, they’re giving me advice they may give me a referral, but it’s confidential,” Nanney explained.

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Chief Landa is working to expand it to all officers in the 37 agencies in Miami Dade County, and hopefully change the stigma against opening up with about trauma.

Jacqueline Quynh