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A look at the mental health impacts for law enforcement agencies following a line of duty death

“You can never really prepare.”
Posted at 7:50 AM, Jul 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-29 13:35:05-04

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — In the world of law enforcement critical incidents, trauma becomes familiar. But when it comes to the death of a comrade, the grief can be overwhelming.

“Our hearts are broken because of the loss of a star in our organization,” said Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood, following the announcement of the death of one of his deputies.

Deputy Phillip Campas was shot while responding to a standoff in Wasco on Sunday. He was taken to Kern Medical where he died from his injuries. A five-year veteran of the force, Marine veteran, and member of the honor guard, he leaves behind a wife and three children.

“You can never really prepare for something as tragic,” said Gary Carruesco, a former Bakersfield Police Sergeant.

Carruesco knows all too well what it means for a law enforcement agency when they lose one of their own. He knows that especially for those who worked closely with the fallen deputy, this time can be very traumatic.

“The calls for service don’t stop coming. "o those people directly affected, though they may be on administrative leave, others have to fill their positions,” Carruesco said.

Sheriff Youngblood announced the 23 deputies were placed on administrative leave as they cope with the tragedy.

“You don’t have to be imminently involved to have a serious impact on your mental health, and we’re experiencing that,” Youngblood said.

Youngblood said to help with the staffing shortage, the Bakersfield Police Department has taken on most of KCSO's calls. He said he's also received messages from other sheriff's departments offering help.

A report from the International Journal of Emergency Mental Health outlined the most common reactions for law enforcement agencies following a line of duty death as shock and disbelief. If not properly monitored, these reactions can escalate to self-destructive behaviors, anger, and survivor's guilt.

“Mental health preparedness organizations are doing a great job of making sure officers are prepared beforehand and then after a situation occurs," Carruesco said. "So immediately they'll bring in mental health professionals for anyone having issues and given them an outlet with which to speak."