BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) - Without question, law enforcement officers across Western New York respond to emergencies day after day. But when the people who help others need help themselves, it's important they can access it quickly and without judgment.
That's where the WNY Police Helpline comes in. The helpline is a resource for current and retired officers as well as their families, and offers support 24/7. Anyone who calls will be connected to another law enforcement officer, who has been trained to support the caller on the other end.
Donna Wilson, who lost her brother Buffalo Police Lieutenant Craig Lehner last year, knows the importance of resources that offer support. After her brother died during an underwater training exercise in the Niagara River, police officers were constantly checking in on her and her family, to make sure everything was ok.
"If I need something I can call them. I can text them. Just text them and say I'm having a bad day," she explained. "I've texted them at two in the morning because I couldn't sleep."
Those sleepless nights are something many officers and their family members are familiar with.
"They see everything imaginable," explained Bonita Frazer, who is on the Police Helpline Steering Committee.
Because of that, the Helpline is always accessible. It's completely confidential, and callers will be talking to another member of the law enforcement family, something that's very important to many of them.
"This is somebody they can go to, this is somebody they trust, and this is somebody they know will provide them with the kind of support and help that they need," Frazer said.
Last year alone, the line had more than 850 contacts, which tells organizers there's a significant need in the community for this type of support.
"Everybody expects us to go to the job, take care of everybody else's problems, come home and pretend like nothing has affected you," said Mark Pitirri, who works with Amherst Police and is a WNY Police Helpline Volunteer.
"Some people are able to leave it at work. Sometimes people bring it home. And the helpline is for families as well. Is this going to be my husband? My wife? Boyfriend, girlfriend, family member?"
Another important aspect of the Helpline is that once a caller is connected with help, that contact doesn't end. The interaction is designed for volunteers to reach back out to people and make sure they're ok weeks or even months after they call.
That support over time is something Wilson says she's needed more than she realized now that her brother has been gone for seven months.
"We thought the worst was when we were down at the river. Then we were so busy that we didn't have that time to grieve like we should have," she explained. "There's days when I will withdraw, I don't want to talk to anyone. I'm crying miserable, and they will text me out of the blue. I can't even describe how it makes us feel, other than people care. People really do care."
The number for the WNY Police Helpline is (716) 858-COPS. Active and retired law enforcement members and their families can call any time. For more information on the helpline, or to donate to the cause, check out their website here.
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