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LITTLE ROCK (KATV) —by Desmond Nugent Thursday, October 8th 2020

The Little Rock Police Department said it has a wellness unit that helps first responders cope with off and on-duty life challenges.

On Monday, tragedy struck the community of Pine Bluff and its first responders in the death of Detective Kevin Collins. According to the Conyers Police Department in Georgia, 19-year-old Keshone Smith is connected to the shooting that resulted in the death of Collins. Collins died in the line of duty during an investigation that ended in an exchange of gunfire at the Econo Lodge in Pine Bluff.

Michelle Hill is a wellness officer with the Little Rock Police Department. She said part of her job is to help first responders cope with traumatic events everyday life challenges.

Hill said the unit started in 2018, they are the only full-time wellness unit in the state with two full-time officers and 15 peer support officers within the division. She said their unit does travel around the state and including Pine Bluff this week, helping first responders cope with the death of Det. Collins.ADVERTISING

“That kind of support is really the majority of what our communities feel, unfortunately, it’s not in the forefront for us to see that. so when it takes a horrible, critical incident to happen that kind of just makes everybody bleed a little bit,” Hill said.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Disaster Technical Assistance Center in 2018, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder affect 30% of all first responders. In addition, 37% of fire and emergency medical services professionals have contemplated suicide, which is nearly 10 times the rate of American adults in general.

Hill said their unit helps to provide the necessary resources first responders need such as food, gasoline or provide an opportunity to listen to the concerns they may have. She said they want to ensure all aspects of first responders’ health are addressed to provide the best care for the community.

“When that check engine light comes on and your bodies saying something’s not right, let’s address it and let’s do it in a healthy way so we can cope and recover and be that excellent first responder, so when you guys call 911 they’re in a healthy place to respond,” Hill said.

Hill said some first responders start their careers at an early age. She said she would like for those first responders to begin their holistically in a healthy manner and retire the same way.

“The biggest compliment we get or the biggest comment we get is man, I wish we had this 10 years ago. I think that the young officers are taking full advantage, they want to be healthy, they want to be as healthy as they possibly can be physically and mentally,” Hill said.

Hill said other law enforcement agencies around the state are working to have their own wellness unit.