Law enforcement panel discussion covers mental health, police accountability


Photo and story Stephen Thomas

Officers from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Tennessee State Troopers and Alaska State Troopers discussed what it takes to be an officer in the modern era in the Student Union on Tuesday. The triumvirate panel was moderated by MTSU Professor Lynda Williams.   

The questions varied in content from personal, physical and mental of the officers to the use of bodycams and media relations. 

Tennessee State Trooper Lt. Charles Caplinger spoke about the Employee Assistance Program, which is designed to anonymously help officers who are struggling with the stress of the job. 

Alaska State Trooper Cpt. Anthony April, with an ever-present smile as he spoke with students,  said communication with his officers was important to maintain a healthy work environment. 

 “I’ll ask them, ‘are you ok (mentally)?’ If they say ‘yes’ but, 75 percent of their body language says no, I’ll press the officer a little more and get them help if needed,”  Anthony said.  

TBI Special Agent Jason Wilkerson referred to finding healthy ways to decompress, relieve tension and stress from the job. Wilkerson said his solution is as simple as riding motorcycle. 

The consensus from the panel was to not be afraid to get the mental, emotional or physical help needed to reduce stress 

Accountability of the officers was discussed. April said the key is to set clear expectations and to have them written down and verbally communicated so that there is no confusion as to what standard his troopers are to be held.  

“I’m 26 troopers short. I’d rather be 26 short than hire someone not qualified to do the job,” April said.  

With regard to officer accountability, “I will release a [drug] dealer caught with ten kilos if he gives me an officer with an ounce of cocaine, it is that serious,” Wilkerson said.  

Law enforcement must be held to a higher standard is Wilkerson’s point in this example. 

There are three rules. Rule one don’t embarrass the bureau, rule number two don’t embarrass the bureau, rule number three don’t embarrass the bureau,” Wilkerson reinforced about the TBI standards.  

Caplinger spoke about the way that his troopers behave in uniform or in civilian clothing. Caplinger says if his troopers have done something wrong, go to him and discuss the issue rather than finding out after the fact and being unprepared for the fallout.  

“Make sure that you do the right thing, at home and on the patrol,” said Caplinger. 

When posed with the question of providing bodycams for officers, the cost was a large sticking point for the state troopers. Both Alaska and Tennessee state troopers have video in their cars and some form of audio recording to provide a view into traffic stops. The troopers were open to having bodycams implemented. 

Wilkerson said that the way the TBI operates (undercover and covert), bodycams are not feasible, due to the sensitive nature of TBI operations. 

The relationship with the media varied with each of the panelists. Caplinger stated the necessity of wording answers in a way that does not compromise the investigation; however, he also stated that media can be helpful by getting the names of suspects disseminated and identifying missing persons. Caplinger cites a recent incident of the use of media to help identify an unidentified fatality in Wilson County. 

April had a different approach when he was appointed, he invited all the press in the area to have a discussion. April spoke about how this has helped how the public views law enforcement. 

Wilkerson’s message was simply to have the facts correct when you present them. 

To contact News Editor Savannah Meade, email newseditor@mtsusidelines.com.

For more news, visit www.mtsusidelines.com, or follow us on Facebook at MTSU Sidelines or on Twitter at @Sidelines_News

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