‘It is a very difficult time for public safety’: Program helps police departments in times of need

Local News

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WBTW) — The South Carolina Law Enforcement Assistance Program (SCLEAP) has been helping police departments in the area for years but most recently with the deaths of Officer Jacob Hancher and Sgt. Gordon William Best.

SCLEAP was formed in 1997 to assist state police officers, SLED agents, state troopers, and local law enforcement.

“In the year 2000, the legislature passed a law that said SCLEAP should exist, it should be supported by these agencies but it shall serve any local law enforcement agency upon request,” said Eric Skidmore, the program manager for SCLEAP.

SCLEAP is made up of a partnership between five state agencies including SLED, South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, South Carolina Department of Public Safety, South Carolina Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Service, and South Carolina Army and Air National Guard.

Any agency can reach out to SCLEAP at anytime and request assistance.

“The way the program is designed is for officers to confidentiality reach out and to request assistance, maybe a referral to a clinical counselor, maybe it’s something related to grief, maybe it’s post deployment, maybe it’s addiction,” Skidmore said.

Skidmore added that “they can reach out in confidence to us and we will seek to connect them with the resources they need.”

When an incident happens like the recent death of Sgt. Best with the North Myrtle Beach Public Safety Department, a Chaplain with SCLEAP will assist that department with whatever they may need.

“We have mental health providers, we have medical providers, we’re there to help them process this traumatic incident and help them work through it so they can quite honestly move on,” said Eddie Hill, the Horry County Sheriff Chaplain.

“It’s important for police officers to know that their command staff has their back, if they are following their training and they’re performing in a lawful way, in they’re agency, they need to know that their bosses support them 100 percent and that’s what I see around our state,” Skidmore said.

Skidmore said for decades there was a stigma regarding those in law enforcement reaching out for assistance.

“In the time that we live, in the way that officers are finding a new way to cope, a new way to find assistance, whereas in 30 years ago, 40 years ago, such resources were not available and they were frowned upon, perhaps as a sense of weakness,” Skidmore said.

Chief Dale Long with the Conway Police Department said his department has requested SCLEAP’s assistance and said it’s a necessary resource when it comes to mental health.

“Everybody looks at the police and thinks they’re strong, all these things but we see things that ordinary people should never have to see and we need to be able to deal with it in very safe settings which are dealing with people who understand what we’re talking about,” Chief Long said.

Long said “we need someone to talk to and the good thing about the peer team is that we’re talking with the officers that have been trained, most of them that have gone through, exactly the type of scenarios that we have.”

Hill said the law enforcement community is a family and coming together in group healing sessions, is beneficial.

“It tells these officers that they’re not alone and that’s the bright part of it, as sad as it is, that is the bright part,” Hill said.

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