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The student news site of California State University - Los Angeles

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The student news site of California State University - Los Angeles

University Times

South Gate Police Dept. aims to prioritize officer mental health

Christian B. Valle
The City of South Gate Hall of Justice is home to the City’s police department. Photo courtesy of the City of South Gate Police Department Facebook page.

The City of South Gate Police Department (PD) received a grant from the State of California to establish and improve programming geared toward the wellness of its employees. 

South Gate PD was awarded $51,954.12 in February as a part of the Officer Wellness and Mental Health Grant Program created by the California Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC) as a part of Assembly Bill 178, Chapter 45, Statutes of 2022. 

The overall program provided $50 million for city and county law enforcement agencies to improve officer wellness and expand mental health sources. Distribution of the funds began on Feb. 15 of this year.

During a South Gate City Council meeting last month, South Gate Police Chief Darren Arakawa spoke about the program and how the funds would be used for all staff, not just officers.

“We are looking at a lot of different things to provide services for the wellness of all of our employees in the police department,” said Arakawa. “Not just the sworn officers, but dispatchers…and line level personnel that get exposed to chronic, traumatic incidents that could affect them long term.

In a December 2022 memorandum, BSCC Chair Linda Penner wrote to California police chiefs and sheriffs to explain that “the Officer Wellness grant is for the purpose of improving officer wellness and expanding mental health sources.” 

Some of the ways that the grant will aim to improve officer wellness includes, “establishing or expanding officer wellness units, establishing or expanding peer support units, services provided by a licensed mental health professional, counselor, or other professional that works with law enforcement, expanding multiagency mutual aid programs focused on officer wellness and mental health and other programs or services that are evidence based or have a successful track record of enhancing officer wellness.” 

Juan Rodriguez, the South Gate PD Detective Bureau Sergeant, said his department plans to utilize their funds to improve three areas: mental, physical, and other as outlined by the program.

For the area of mental health, Rodriquez said the PD will work with a police psychologist to provide training sessions to discuss topics like stress relief, benefits of meditation, dealing with family issues and more. 

“We will even open up a few trainings to what we call “Blue Families” – to include people who are in relationship with or associated with officers to learn to cope with stress,” added Rodriguez.

As far as physical health, the department already has a massage chair and a Peloton bike for stress relief but would like to add an additional chair in the employees lounge for officers to enjoy on their breaks, a Tonal workout system and a quiet space for those who would like an alternative to a gym atmosphere. 

“Some people like to do meditation or Tai Chi. They may not be gym people, so we want to make space for them,” Rodriguez said.

The “other” in the grant money will be used for enjoyable items and programs for employees like better coffee options and to provide the PD’s Trauma Support Team with petty cash for things like Officer Appreciation Days.

“I want happy officers who feel committed and included and enjoy what they do. I think that in turn will make them better officers when they go out into the community,” Rodriquez added. 

Arakawa also announced during the city council meeting that the first steps of the wellness program had begun. He referred to his attendance at the first meeting of the Los Angeles County Fentanyl Crisis Task Force on Feb. 27, and the impact addressing this crisis will have on officers.

Vice Mayor Gil Hurtado applauded the efforts of the South Gate PD and also spoke on the importance of prioritizing officer’s mental health. 

“That is a very important thing,” he said. “I can tell you that my son works for the police department in a neighboring city as a crime scene investigator and sometimes he has to go in for therapy because a lot of the things he sees are things that would give the rest of us nightmares.”

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About the Contributor
Alysia Burke, Multimedia Reporter
Alysia Burke is a fourth-year journalism major and the Senior Video Reporter for the University Times. She enjoys covering community news, sports and entertainment stories, and also loves being an on-camera host. She strives to produce creative and informative video content, and hopes to continue doing so as long as she can. 
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