HOPA Update: HPD officers’ ‘buddy system’ includes many phone lines to helpful listeners

Tom Kennedy

The familiar story always bears repeating time and again, so we will repeat it here.

The everyday job of a Houston police officer is always stressful, many times overbearing while taking its punishing toll on officers who handle the worst of human situations and some people hardly qualifying as members of the human race.

The job can get to you – affect your psyche to an extreme. Many HPD officers know of colleagues who have considered taking their own lives.

An HPOU Board member – Tim Whitaker – has lost several HPD friends to suicide and wants to emphasize to all officers that they should not hesitate to call a helping hand when they are in crisis.

“Frankly,” Whitaker said, “I don’t care who they call as long as the officer calls someone.”

Whitaker, a Westside patrol officer, ranks as a vociferous advocate of an HPOU-initiated program called HOPA, a non-profit organization available for every officer, dispatcher and officers’ family member who just want to talk to someone about the stresses and struggles of life.

HOPA is set up to be an anonymous hotline where the caller can talk without having to worry about any repercussions from the department. Currently there are 20 peer assistance volunteers who are retired Houston officers from a variety of ranks and divisions.

As Whitaker stressed:

The volunteers are available 24/7 to listen to any caller’s concerns. A caller just needs to call the hotline number at 832-200-3499. The answering service will forward the caller to a volunteer.

Whitaker said he recently spoke with an officer in crisis who was more concerned about his job than he was his mental health. Whitaker stressed to the officer that his life was far more important than his job on the beat.

“Personally,” he said, “a HOPA volunteer assisted me and several other Westside officers in dealing with a scene of a decapitated toddler last November. Chief Wendy Baimbridge and Commander Michael Faulhaber encouraged us to de-brief. The HOPA volunteer assisted with the de-brief. He had been at the Andrea Yates scene years earlier and could speak and counsel from experience.

“Every officer at the de-brief learned each one of us had been affected similarly and had like memories of the horrific scene. This de-brief was so encouraging that I hope to meet with Chief Baimbridge soon to make it a part of every situation in which officers witness horrific scenes.

“Officers cannot successfully complete a career alone and must talk about the internal and external stressors of being a police officer.”

Of course, Whitaker’s constant message is have hope with HOPA.  If a caller wants to exchange names and numbers with the HOPA volunteer, that always is permissible and can possibly lead to a very healthy relationship.

In addition to helping HPD officers and their family members, the HOPA lines have opened the phone lines to Baytown PD, Dallas PD, Fort Worth PD, Santa Fe ISD PD, first responders from Southerland Springs, as well as other law enforcement agencies round the country during a time of crisis.

“Currently the HOPA hotline receives very few calls,” Whitaker lamented. “This mentality would have us believe that police officers are more comfortable dealing with other people’s problems than they are dealing with their own.”

The veteran officer and HPOU board activist has answered this situation with his own personal crusade to get the word out. He spent the 2017-2018 training cycle at the academy telling every Houston officer about HOPA, hoping the call intake would increase.

“HOPA has great resources,” Whitaker reported. “I’m overwhelmed that so many retirees are willing to help with active officers who are trying to ‘get by.’ I have learned through hPOU and HOPA that many officers are dealing with things alone when they should be reaching out for help.

“It’s commonly known that in police work the ‘buddy system’ works. It’s always better. I’m most concerned about officers who are dealing with suicidal thoughts and alcoholism. HPOU has contact with many treatment centers and can put any officer in touch with one of these centers.”

The number of officer suicides exceeding line of duty deaths is of great concern, he said.

Although HOPA is always available, HPD Psych Services steadfastly remains a great resource for officers in crisis under the direction of Dr. Tate and his experienced staff.

Whitaker said Psych Services is making critical incident scenes and hopes one day that a HOPA volunteer can also be present. Internally, HPD chaplains and the Police and Clergy Alliance (PACA) are great resources for officers who are struggling.

 

Externally, Whitaker said, there are many police suicide hotlines. And they are:

 

  • Copline (800-267-5463)
  • Veterans Crisis Hotline (800-273-8255)
  • Cop2Cop (866-267-2267)
  • Safe Call Now (206-459-3020)
  • Code 9 (929-244-9911)
  • Text Blue (text 741741)

 

Whitaker pointed out that Code 9, Blue H.E.L.P and Copline have great websites with information about lots of resources.