By Tony E. Windsor

In an effort to formally recognize the need for providing employees who encounter extremely stressful incidents on the job with mental health support, the town of Laurel has adopted a specific policy known as the “Employee Assistance Program Policy.”

Recently, Town Manager Jamie Smith proposed a formal mental health policy to the Laurel Mayor and Council. Though the focus of the policy addresses what has been a national focus on mental health support for police officers, it pertains to all employees.

“I am proposing to have Mayor and Council adopt a formal policy in regards to any type of mental health or crisis counseling due to on-job related incidents. This is something that we have followed informally when individual employees were subjected to very unfortunate incidents. This informal policy dates back to over 10 years ago,” she said.

Smith said the Laurel Police Department has recently received state accreditation and given the length of time and effort put into that process, Chief Danny Wright has requested that a formal mental health policy be adopted by the town to adhere to the overall formality of accreditation.

Like hospitals and healthcare facilities across the country, accreditation lends a higher degree of credibility to the status of professional accountability for law enforcement. The Laurel Police Department recently received accreditation from the Delaware Police Accreditation Commission (DPAC), under the umbrella of the state Department of Safety and Homeland Security.

According to the Department of Safety and Homeland Security, the DPAC was created and developed as a result of the efforts of the Delaware Police Chiefs’ Council to improve the delivery of police services to the citizens of Delaware. Approved on May 22, 2008, House Bill 347 established the DPAC. The DPAC is responsible for providing policy level direction and drafting and implementing state level police accreditation standards for matters related to accreditation.

According to Safety and Homeland Security, “The Police Chiefs’ Council adopted over 100 standards related to professional policing and those standards have been approved by the DPAC. The DPAC is active in its mission to advance law enforcement professionalism through the establishment of professional standards and the administration of a formal mechanism by which Delaware agencies can be systematically measured, evaluated, and updated.”

Town Manager Smith said she crafted the Employee Assistance Program Policy which can be added to the town’s existing “Personnel Policy,” using language that is already in effect at another local municipality.

The policy states that should a “tragic event” occur while on duty, to any police officer, or civilian member of the police department, or an on-the-job incident which may cause a mental health crisis, the employee(s) will be instructed by the Police Chief to seek at least one counseling session with a mental health counselor of his or her choice. The employee will be reimbursed for the session by the town. If extended sessions are deemed necessary, the continuing costs will be reimbursed by the town.

Smith said the same language will also be applied to non-police employees who work for the town. Councilwoman Cheryl Martin inquired as to whether the town would be responsible for the employee counseling sessions beyond the first session. Smith said the town would reimburse for all sessions recommended by the health professional because this would be reflective of an event that occurred on-the-job.

During the “Public Participation portion of the council meeting, Jill Cramer, who resides on Airport Road, asked whether a “cap” would be placed on the amount of funds reimbursed to the employee for the mental health counseling. Smith said there is no cap in place, so the town will be responsible for all co-pays incurred by the employee. The Mayor and Council voted unanimously to adopt the Employee Assistance Program Policy as recommended by the town manager.