MOORHEAD — The Moorhead Police Department is taking a rare step to protect the mental health of its officers. It's one of the few departments in the country to hire an in-house counselor.
That position often deals with heavy situations on the job. "Her first four months of working here, she handled nine suicides," says Moorhead Police Chief Shannon Monroe.
He also spoke of a more recent job when some of his officers searched through a landfill for a dismembered murder victim.
"They're driven to do their job because they think of a victim like they would a family member, and they want to have closure for that family. But the images and smells and everything that comes with that part of their job, they'll do, they'll get through that moment. But it's what they're going to remember about that later on...It's very similar to what soldiers would experience with PTSD," said Monroe.
Enter Dr. Aaron Suomala Folkerds. He has volunteered to help officers in the past, just a few weeks ago they gave him his own office at the department and the title "Wellness Coordinator" so he can frequently work with each officer.
"Our officers are well equipped in many different areas. So now we're working on equipment them well psychologically, emotionally, spiritually," Suomala Folkerds said.
He starts by working with them early and walking them through how to deal with trauma before it happens.
"To put on the psychological armor if you will. Then also after the fact too. To be available for debriefing, whether that be as a group or individual," Suomala Folkerds said.
Each person he works with is a unique case, saying there's no umbrella treatment. Working in-house makes individual treatment easier.
"It's helping people understand what that concept is. It's the ability to bounce back in the face of adversity, in the face of trauma," said Suomala Folkerds.
Chief Monroe said talking about mental health in the police force carried a negative stigma years ago. Now it's embedded in his department.
"If they're healthier at work, then they do a better job for the community," Chief Monroe says.
They hope to grow Dr. Aaron's role and work with other departments around the country and providing the same capabilities.
Chief Monroe and Dr. Aaron believe there are only about a dozen departments in the country with an in-house mental health counselor. Moorhead Police are among the first small departments to hire one.