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Alcohol help in works for Indy police

– Rising concern over recent alcohol-related arrests of Indianapolis-area police officers is sparking a push to create a private foundation to help them address their problems outside the chain of command.

Indianapolis Public Safety Director Troy Riggs is working with city leaders to establish the foundation, which would offer training and counseling services for public safety employees.

More than a dozen local officers have been arrested on alcohol charges in the past three years, including an Indiana State Police trooper whose blood-alcohol content was three times the legal limit when police say he waved a weapon inside a restaurant earlier this month.

Experts say public safety workers are often prone to alcohol abuse because of the work environment.

“It’s a culture thing,” John Violanti, a professor of social and preventive medicine at the University at Buffalo, told The Indianapolis Star. “You have a culture that condones alcohol use, and you also have the stress of the work that kind of pushes officers into finding relief in some way. Sometimes, alcohol is that relief.”

Riggs wants to change that culture.

“We want to spot the issues early and get those people help,” Riggs said. “We’re going to be investing a lot of time and effort – and, quite frankly, money – on those areas.”

Riggs said the foundation is still in the planning stages, but it could be similar to one he helped launch while working as an assistant police chief in Louisville, Ky.

Barry Denton, executive director of the Louisville foundation, said an estimated 1,200 officers are in the city’s program.

“Police officers see us helping and supporting them,” said Joe Kelley, the Louisville foundation’s chairman. “We all want to be appreciated in our jobs. It’s not unreasonable for them to want the same thing.”

Bill Owensby, president of the Indianapolis Fraternal Order of Police, said the Indianapolis police department already offers a program with confidential counseling. But he acknowledged alcoholism is a larger issue for which the union is still trying to find an answer.

“It’s something that we have dealt with for years,” Owensby said, “and we really scratch our heads trying to figure out a way to get the message across that there’s help out there.”

Riggs said the foundation won’t shield officers who violate alcohol laws from consequences.

“None of this is about lowering accountability,” he said.