City securing annual psych tests of some cops

Jan. 01, 2014 @ 05:35 PM

Elected officials have given the Durham Police Department the green light to spend money on annual psychological evaluations for the officers who work in some special units.
The testing will cost $8,990 a year and come in addition to the counseling the department secures from a contractor for officers involved in “traumatic events.”
Commanders intend to make it available to officers assigned to the department’s Selective Enforcement Team and special-victims unit, to those working to stop “Internet crimes against children,” and to its computer-forensics technician.
A contract says the evaluations will cost $310 apiece, suggesting that 29 employees will receive them.
Police Chief Jose Lopez said people in the units covered by the move “may be exposed to work stressors beyond that of other employees.”
The evaluations will help “assess [their] ongoing suitability” for those posts and “identify any barriers to continued assignments,” he said.
The Selective Enforcement Team is the department’s equivalent of a SWAT team. The special-victims unit is relatively new and deals with sexual assault cases. Internet crimes against children is a euphemism for child pornography or attempts to solicit sex from children.
And the “digital forensics” technician helps police retrieve evidence from computers, a job that exposes the person doing it to “graphic videos that at times may be disturbing,” Lopez said.
City Council members approved the request unanimously last month.
One councilman, Steve Schewel, praised administrators for making it. “Great to see that,” he said of the proposal.
But a longtime community activist, Victoria Peterson, urged the council to expand on the idea by giving the department money to hire an in-house psychiatrist.
She said that would make sure there’s someone around to deal with cases like that of Derek Walker, who was shot and killed by officers on Sept. 17 following an armed, open-air standoff at downtown’s CCB Plaza.
Peterson is among those who’ve argued that police could’ve neutralized Walker through persuasion instead of gunfire. Walker’s Facebook postings from the day of the incident suggested he was distraught over a child-custody matter.
Officials from the start have regarded the incident as a case of “suicide by cop.”
It played out in front of numerous witnesses, including photographers who captured images of Walker brandishing a pistol at bystanders and police, and also pointing it at his own head.
But “when you have a situation where a young man or young woman is having a mental breakdown and you stand out in public for one hour and you talk to them but you don’t bring a licensed doctor, a licensed psychiatrist, a licensed person who has years of training to talk to that individual, but then somebody can shoot that person down because he’s waving a gun, we have some concerns in this community about that,” Peterson said.
She added that the community “made a decision to do what we did because we’re not making sure this law enforcement department has the kind of equipment and materials and the right kind of personnel they need to have.”
City Manager Tom Bonfield said he doubts hiring an in-house psychiatrist would be cost-effective.
The Web site indicates most psychiatrists in Durham make somewhere between $159,277 and $242,609 a year. City department heads like Lopez make less than that.