Vt. State Police Focus on Troopers' Mental Health

New policies from the Vermont State Police are aimed at ensuring the mental health of troopers following traumatic incidents — such as officer-involved shootings.

"To make sure everyone is well and healthy in this job," Maj. Ingrid Jonas of the Vermont State Police said, describing the goal of a newly-enacted package of approaches.

The recommendations follow a string of officer-involved shootings in Vermont, including the killings of a suicidal man on I-89 in Bolton in February, and of a robbery suspect outside Montpelier High School in January.

One trooper, Christopher Brown, was involved in both of those cases, as well as another fatal shooting in a Poultney standoff last year, and in non-fatal gunfire in 2015.

"I'm concerned about his mental health," Col. Matt Birmingham, the commander of the Vermont State Police, said of Trooper Brown in February.

Following the Bolton incident, Birmingham noted that each case is different, but said the force needed a close look at the way troopers return to duty after what it calls "critical incidents."

"That's not to insinuate we are doing anything wrong," Birmingham said on Feb. 12. "It's the responsibility of the command staff of the state police to ensure that we are always evolving and learning and trying to make these situations safer."

The new recommendations that came out of a recently-completed report have troopers getting five days' paid leave following a use of force that results in injury or death. Previously, a member of VSP could be back on the job in just three.

And now, officers won't return to the streets right away, either. They'll be processing evidence, and doing office work or special jobs like school safety assessments.

That's what Jonas said Trooper Brown is doing, as he awaits reviews from the office of Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan and from county prosecutors, who will look into the two most recent shootings.

"It's really unfair to put somebody back in the potential to be a first responder to a critical incident when they're either still recovering or under review for that event," Jonas said.

The new report also recommends a long series of other steps to improve officer health following traumas, including greater access to psychological care.

Jonas said that focus on mental health will extend to other situations troopers find themselves in, such as investigations of crimes against children, homicides, or other incidents that may stay with a person for a while.

Contact Us