As soon as I was sworn in as Maine’s U.S. Attorney in early October after being nominated by President Biden and confirmed by the U.S. Senate, I began traveling around the state to sit down with police chiefs, sheriffs and State Police representatives. I wanted to identify their most pressing needs and to ask how my office and federal law enforcement partners might assist and provide resources in their communities. What I discovered is that all of Maine’s municipal police departments, sheriff’s offices and jails are struggling.

Blue H.E.L.P., a nonprofit working to reduce mental health treatment stigma among law enforcement officers, has found that suicide is one of the leading causes of death among officers nationwide. YuryKara/

Only a handful of these agencies are fully staffed. Officers are overworked and exhausted, surrounded daily by death (drug overdoses and COVID) and depression. Addiction and/or mental illness underlies nearly every call to which they respond, some of which have resulted in shootings more recently. They must prioritize calls involving violence, which means they cannot always respond as quickly to every other type of call as they, and you, are accustomed. There are not enough officers to fill shifts, so those working must work longer and harder hours than ever before; and they are doing so during unprecedented times. Law enforcement officers cannot telework during a pandemic. The traditionally difficult work is now made more challenging as precautions must be taken to keep the residents they serve, and themselves, safe and healthy as they respond to our streets, homes and businesses.

It is an extraordinarily stressful time to be a town, county or state law enforcement officer in Maine. Before the opioid crisis and pandemic, many in the profession would say it was psychologically rewarding. They took the job to help keep their communities safe – to protect and serve. Now, while in mere survival mode, “getting home safe” (i.e., alive) means also carrying the mental baggage of truly difficult days. And it weighs heavily on them. According to numbers compiled by Blue H.E.L.P., a nonprofit working to reduce mental health treatment stigma among law enforcement officers, suicide is one of the leading causes of death among officers nationwide. We are not immune to it here in Maine.

There are obvious reasons for the scrutiny of the criminal justice system as we approach 2022 in the midst of a national dialogue on race and policing. The last few years have highlighted the need for bold and meaningful change in how law enforcement does its job to maintain public safety in all of its forms. We must focus on providing officers necessary and regular training regarding implicit bias and use of force, which my office is committed to help provide in collaboration with state and local leaders. Just as important, however, is the need to help officers with resiliency and increase public awareness regarding the vulnerable state of the mental health of our law enforcement officers. I want to work with the incredibly supportive partners at the Maine Chiefs of Police and Maine Sheriffs’ associations to develop and maintain a culture where an officer asking for help is applauded as an act of courage.

To all of the brave individuals who put on the uniform and badge each day and risk your lives to try to make a difference in every Maine community, please know we see you. We support and respect you. We recognize and appreciate your sacrifices – and those of your families. In this new year, please take care of yourselves. We need you more than ever.

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