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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Police Bureau psychologist calls for more mental health resources for officers

Rep. Luis R. Ortiz Lugo, chairman of the House Security Commission (Tammy Olivencia)

By The Star Staff

A psychologist at the Puerto Rico Police Bureau (PRPB) said the agency has few resources to help police officers deal with working conditions that make them prone to stress and anxiety, among other mental conditions.

Juan Carlos Centeno López, director of the PRPB’s Psychology and Social Work Division, spoke at a hearing of the House Public Safety Committee on House Resolution 663, which calls for a probe into the working conditions of police officers.

Public Safety Department (DSP by its Spanish initials) officials appeared at the public hearing chaired by Rep. Luis “Narmito” Ortiz Lugo.

Centeno López stated that current working conditions have adversely affected personnel.

‘’These working conditions make them prone to experiencing stress, depression, anxiety, and many other situations that require the best treatment available in response to the commitment and responsibility of these officials,” he said.

‘’The State must provide them with the best tools for help, rehabilitation and crisis management, without their being singled out for the situation they are going through,’’ he added.

Given the situation, Centeno López said, the Psychology and Social Work Division only has 21 employees serving 11,500 police officers.

‘’There are 17 psychologists, three social workers, and a secretary, and we do not have the necessary tools or [sufficient] personnel to conduct periodic evaluations effectively,” he said. “Currently, each psychologist has around 40 to 50 referrals.”

Likewise, Centeno López noted that the division he heads also administers the Employee Assistance Program, which is designed to help employees and their immediate family. The program is divided into four sections: Central, Northeast, South and East.

Centeno López emphasized that thousands of police officers have received services from the Psychology and Social Work Division.

‘’In 2020, there were 1,309 referrals; in 2021, 1,394; in 2022, 1,253; and in 2023, 1,564,” he said.

‘’We are committed to addressing issues related to the employment conditions of police officers and the civilian personnel who support them, so we actively work by carefully reviewing each of the services or benefits that assist them,” Centeno López said. “We support the discussion and analysis of proposals that not only allow access to mental health services, but we are also firmly committed to making efforts to improve them. We will do justice to our police officers given the high risk of their work.”

Ortiz Lugo stated that it is “necessary to continue looking for the necessary alternatives in favor of the uniformed police and in that direction be fair to these officials who encounter so much risk and deserve healthy working conditions.”

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