DES MOINES, Iowa -- There is nothing routine about the work of a police officer. "Until you are there and you experience those things that happen out there in our community under the worst circumstances, you really don't know what you are up against," said Des Moines Sergeant Paul Parizek. Death and tragedy takes its toll. "It is a weight you are going to carry forever," Parizek said.
Des Moines Police Chief Dana Wingert's arrival in 2015 aimed to lessen the burden by strengthening officers in an area many departments had not. "He has really pushed officer wellness and that includes your mental health," said Parizek.
Losing three Des Moines officers in 2016 put many of their co-workers in a devastated state, but with an officer peer support team of trained employees in place, they were not alone. "We've got patrol officers, sergeants, detectives, they are scattered throughout the building, the people that have the skills and the heart to help you."
There's also been yoga available to clear the mind from the pain losing a co-worker can bring. Parizek said, "If those resources to help them are not easily accessible that is when we deal with the problems of depression and that may lead to substance abuse, domestic violence and suicide."
The first uniformed police officer arrived to Des Moines in 1876. Throughout history there have been plenty of tools and officers that helped protect the city, but it was not that long ago when protecting the officer's mental health was seen in a different light. Parizek said, "The first time I got involved with law enforcement was the early 1990`s and this wouldn't have gone over well at all. You would have been soft, a sissy, not cut out for the job. It would have been toughen up or get out."
Getting tough on mental health has allowed Des Moines police to stay tough on crime. "You are not weak if you reach out. It is actually a sign of strength asking for help because there are a lot of people that rely on us not just out in the community but also in our families and our homes," said Parizek.