After Milwaukee officer's sacrifice, mental health toll a reality

Milwaukee Police Officer Peter Jerving's ultimate sacrifice Tuesday is taking a toll on his fellow officers.

While there are resources for officers nowadays, mental health was not always talked about.

"There’s soft human beings underneath all of this Kevlar," said Jo Ann Mignon, secretary of Wisconsin Concerns of Police Survivors. "One of the things our survivors fear most is, is their person going to be forgot?"

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Mignon, a former Brillion police officer, knows the pain all too well; her partner was killed in 2002. Now, she is helping others cope.

"We respond and help family and friends and coworkers after there is a line of duty death," she said. "Years ago when some of these things happened, you just didn’t talk about it."

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Milwaukee Police Officer Peter Jerving (Courtesy: Mary Lynn Ellis)

In the past few years, the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission said mental health has become more of a priority. MPD has implemented a wellness team, part of which connects officers to psychologists. In September 2022, the department got Crush – its first ever facility service dog.

"There are conferences, and mental health people and departments have started doing a lot of peer-to-peer teams," Mignon said.

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Since 2018, MPD has now lost six officers in the line of duty. Mignon said law enforcement's change of approach about mental health was inevitable.

"The amount of deaths in law enforcement line of duty, taking one’s life – it was time that everybody just stepped back and said, ‘OK, wait a minute, we need to really look at this,’" she said.

Healing takes courage, but with more resources and less stigma, it is getting a little easier.