$50K to help fund mental health program for law enforcement officers

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Senator Tim Kennedy personally secured $50,000 for the New York Law Enforcement Assistance Program to provide peer-to-peer mental health support to law enforcement officers.

This comes after officials saw for the past two years five Buffalo Police died by suicide in the zip code of 14220.

The President of NYLEAP and Peer Coordinator of Warren County Sheriff’s Office Jim Banish says he understands the challenge of mental health since his brother died by suicide.

“My brother who’s a lieutenant by the age of 35 was dealing with a lot of administrative stress and administrative betrayal on the job and ultimately took his life on April 1, 2008,” he says.

Banish says after the loss of his brother he had a hard time coping until he went for counseling.

He says he hid his depression until a partner in law enforcement asked what was wrong.

Little did Banish know that his colleague too was looking for someone to talk to for comfort.

“That day my whole life changed and I said you know what, I’m not the only one that’s struggling,” he says. “So from there, I started organically helping other officers.”

Now he’s extending his hand to help others like him in Buffalo.

“Devastatingly, we’ve lost five officers to suicide with this very zip code 14220,” says Senator Kennedy. “It’s really heart-wrenching for our entire community to know those first responders are out there risking their lives to protect us and are taking their own lives because they are in depression to the highest order.”

Banish says the program has seen positive results nationwide with 16 states implementing the same initiative.

“I’m going to continue to fight every day to make sure that the men and women in our law enforcement agencies are looked after,” says Councilman Chris Scalon of the City of Buffalo.

But the real challenge others say is bringing people in and fighting the stigma of seeking help.

“And have them feel comfortable to actually say something where we’re tough people,” says Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia. “It’s a sign of weakness and it’s not you have to change that.”

Banish will be releasing his book “Law Enforcement Culture Unveiled,” by the end of August in hopes of comforting those who struggle with their mental health.

“You’re the same person today that you were before you started this job and if not we can get you back,” he says. “So take a look at the mirror and take a look at yourself if you don’t see the same person, come and see me. We’ll get you back.”

Click here if you’re a Buffalo Police officer looking to learn more about the program.

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