COLUMBUS, Ohio (WSYX/WTTE) — The reorganization of the Columbus Division of Police is well underway, after Monday's announcement of a wholesale shake-up of the department's leadership and bureau structure. Resources are already being reallocated — for example, offices on Morse Road that were home to the Criminal Intelligence Unit have been vacated, to be replaced soon with the Wellness Bureau.
It's a new initiative being hailed as a leadership model for the rest of the country.
"Unfortunately, sometimes people deal with things in unhealthy ways," said CPD Commander Rhonda Grizzell on Wednesday. Grizzell is the leader of the new bureau and participated in a stress-reaction training course on Wednesday with other cops and firefighters, to learn more about her new role in reducing officer stress department-wide.
Included in her efforts will be a brand-new therapy dog unit, meant to bring smiles to police officers and civilians alike in stressful situations. There will also be a hands-on Mobile Crisis Response Unit, to intervene in situations where police or civilians become extremely agitated or distressed, or when situations call for a calming presence and an at-length follow-up to ensure the participants' welfare. Five police officers will partner with social workers from NetCare to ensure people are dealing with stress in productive ways.
"(It's) giving officers a new way to consider how to deal with some of these issues, and remind them of the healthy ways to deal with them," Grizzell said.
The Wellness Bureau is one of the first in the nation, built upon the foundation of the six-year-old Columbus Division of Police peer counseling program — as well as further shared expertise from Columbus Division of Fire. Commander Grizzell was one of the founders of the peer counseling initiative and says both the counseling and the larger Wellness Bureau were designed to combat a troubling trend of officer suicides nationwide.
The commander says the programs also help improve officers' service to the public.
"So that when they come to work, and go out to do their jobs, they are the best they can for everyone calling them and depending on them," she said.
Columbus employee assistance program director Lisa Callander said on Wednesday that she's not often heard of police programs as comprehensive as the new Wellness Bureau. NYPD is one department that's had an especially distressing run of suicides in recent years, and deploys a program called POPPA to work on officer well-being.
The Mobile Crisis Unit in Columbus has existed for six months on a trial basis, but will now be made permanent and hire full-time officers. The therapy dog unit has selected its officers and is waiting to begin training with dogs in August, in order to roll out the new program before year's end.