SIDNEY — The Sidney Police Department has tied as runner-up in a nationwide officer-wellness contest.
The department was recognized during Police Week in May.
The National Officer Safety and Wellness Awards program is part of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance’s VALOR award program. Departments are honored for excellence in four categories: general officer safety, officer traffic safety, officer wellness and comprehensive safety.
According to the Destination Zero program, which helps agencies improve officers’ health and safety, the Officer Wellness Award recognizes officer safety/wellness programs “that proactively engage employees in initiatives that increase overall officer wellness and/or reduce line-of-duty injuries or deaths.”
This year, first place went to the Stockton (California) Police Department. Past winners include the Indianapolis Police Department, San Diego Police Department and the New York Police Department.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t win,” said Police Chief Will Balling. “But I’m happy with that, because I think we have a wonderful program. … It’s not all about winning or who is first or second. It’s just making sure as a profession we are taking care of our people.”
The Sidney Police Department implemented the fitness part of its wellness program approximately 18 years ago based upon Cooper physical fitness standards. The test includes a 300-meter run, bench press and/or push ups, sit ups, vertical jump, and a 1.5-mile run. Recently the mental wellness part was added for officers to debrief following a tragedy.
“I cannot say this enough. (The award) is nothing about me. This is about the officers themselves. But if I would have to identify three people from our department that are currently working, I would say it would be Capt. Bill Shoemaker, Sgt. Jeremy Lorenzo and Officer Mike McRill,” Balling said.
He said Shoemaker and Lorenzo are “heavily involved” with helping officers improve their physical fitness and McRill is heavily involved with the mental aspect of the wellness program. He noted that Shoemaker and Lorenzo have been “instrumental over the years of getting the (fitness) programs installed, and working with the officers to get in shape.”
Balling said McRill is jokingly called “Father Mike” because people can go to him about personal or on-the-job issues. McRill, he said, is one of the lead trauma informed police instructors for the state of Ohio.
Within the Sidney Police Department, McRill and Officer Chris Burmeister are both trained to visit other departments or schools and work with people after a tragedy, allowing those involved to share their feelings and debrief in a safe environment.
“For whatever the public feels about people that are using heroin, they are still people. So we are responding to those scenes, and that person — for our pretenses — is pretty well dead until they get the naloxone to come back. That has to wear on my officers and I want to make sure they go home; they are healthy. Mentally healthy. That there is nothing that affects them that would affect their home life or career after this,” Balling said.
“You know, it used to be a taboo subject. But now-a-days, I would rather an officer come to me and say they are having a problem and let us work it out, than to hold it inside and possibly later on they have a situation, or the department have a situation because they couldn’t let it out,” said Balling.
Because the police chief was unable to take everyone with him to Washington, D.C., he skipped the awards ceremony, but was happy to share the news with his officers.
“For a small department and what these guys have been dedicated to, and willing to do — because again, not only do you have to be dedicated to it, sometimes you have to motivate guys to become mentally or physically fit. It doesn’t just happen,” Balling said. “And be willing to hear the mental aspect of it. That isn’t something that’s typically done in law enforcement.”
Balling said the awarded plaque will be presented to the Sidney City Council at a meeting this summer.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4823.