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Buffalo native tackling first responder mental health stigma

"This is for cops, by cops"
Posted at 7:04 PM, Mar 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-13 21:23:27-04

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Although James Banish now lives some 300 miles away from Buffalo near Lake George, he still calls the Queen City home. It's the place he was born and lived for several years before moving elsewhere in Western New York with his family.

Banish grew up in a tight-knit family of seven. The three Banish brothers took up careers in law enforcement. His younger brother, Mike, became a trooper in Virginia and his oldest brother, Joey, became a trooper here in New York. All three wanted to be police officers simply so they could help people, give people hope. He and his oldest brother, Joey, were inseparable.

"Just a remarkable person that cared about everybody and always thought about everybody first. And put everybody before himself, which ultimately cost him and he paid the ultimate sacrifice for it," Banish said about his brother, Joey.

But everything changed April 1, 2008. It's the day engraved on the worn bracelet Banish wears every single day. It's the day he had to respond to a call and find his 35-year-old brother -- a Lieutenant for New York State Police who went home for lunch -- died by suicide. It's the day Banish lost hope.

"It was very difficult on my family. My family grew up very close and we all leaned on each other for everything, so it was a big shock," Banish said. He continued, "If I didn't get help I probably wouldn't be here today."

Just 19 days after his brother died, Banish went back to work. He said for two years, he ignored the fact he needed help. In 2010, he sought that help and made it his mission to advocate for mental health awareness in law enforcement.

"It's like throwing a pebble in a bucket. It's fine [when] you can carry one pebble around, but every call you go on, every infant death, every suicide and every fatal accident that we handle, those pebbles start adding up in that bucket. And pretty soon you can't carry it around," Banish said.

He knew his fellow officers felt the same way, but there was no where to turn. That's why in 2017, Banish founded the New York Law Enforcement Assistance Program, better known as NYLEAP. The organization is aimed at tackling mental health stigmas in the first responder community using a peer-to-peer approach. Several other states have similar chapters.

"This is for cops, by cops. We know how to protect each other," Banish said.

It's the way Banish said he found hope, again and it's a way he can now give others hope.

"Blue needs to take care of blue, and this is the best way I can show and spread the world," he said. Over the last three years, the organization has grown substantially, helping thousands of officers and Banish said it's all because of Joey.

"They have him to thank, not me. This isn't me. This is all him," he said.

Recently, Banish's son was sworn in as a trooper in Virginia where he wears his late uncle's badge number.

To help NYLEAP continue to grow, the organization is hosting the first "Brothers in Blue Bash" at the Buffalo Grand Hotel and Event Center. The event, originally scheduled for March is now postponed until August 29, 2020.

For tickets, you can contact Bonita Frazer at 716-235-7565 or bonitafrazer@yahoo.com.