116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
DES MOINES — Iowa Department of Public Safety Director Stephan Bayens makes clear he’s not a cop.
But, as the son of a police officer, “I’ve walked in their kids’ shoes,” he told the House Justice Systems Appropriations Subcommittee on Wednesday while requesting funds for a department wellness coordinator.
Based on his father’s experience and what he sees among the department’s personnel, “sucking it up” is a common way of dealing with trauma.
“We can’t continue that way,” he told the committee. “We’re burning out.”
Based on his own experience responding to the April 2021 fatal shooting of Iowa State Patrol Sgt. Jim Smith in Grundy County, “there are certain radio transmissions I still hear and certain sights I still see,” Bayens said.
Public Safety has seen a significant increase in the use of its critical incident stress management and peer support programs, Bayens said in his annual appearance before the budgetary committee.
Requests for critical stress management debriefings tripled in 2021 to 54. Public Safety personnel logged about 690 peer support contacts totaling 1,408 hours.
Three or four people share the duties for those programs in addition to their regular duties, Bayens said.
Demand, however, has reached the point a full-time wellness coordinator is needed to meet the needs of his department and its law enforcement partners across the state, he said.
A full-time coordinator would manage employee wellness programs, broaden services to family members and oversee the department’s therapy dog program.
He estimated the all-in cost, including salary and benefits, to be $191,000.
The governor has recommended a general fund allocation of nearly $120.8 million for the Department of Public Safety.
Wellness, Baynes said, also plays a role in recruiting new employees, which has become a challenge.
Research shows that Gen Z and millennials, who make up nearly half the U.S. workforce, want to work for employers that care about their well-being, he said. That’s the age group the department must recruit to offset the 50 percent of Iowa State Patrol troopers who are retiring in the next five to six years, he said.
The patrol, which is 20 troopers short of its allocation of 399, just graduated a class of 24 from its academy and has a new class of 19 recruits starting training. Bayens noted the patrol has had interest from as many as 1,300 people for past academies. The most recent academy drew interest from 300.
The benefit of a full-time wellness coordinator goes beyond officers’ personal well-being, Bayens said.
“There's also a lot of research to suggest that when your officers are well, they tend not to engage in misconduct, they don't have unlawful use of force issues,” he said. “So your civil liability tends to drop as well because they've been able to deal with that trauma and respond to it appropriately.”
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