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Wausau Police Department Hires Mental Health Therapist To Help Crime Victims

Police Captain Believes Department Is First In Nation To Have Trained Therapist On Staff

Glen Moberg/WPR

The Wausau Police Department has hired a full-time mental health therapist to help people who have been traumatized by crime.

Wausau Police Detective Capt. Matt Barnes came up with the idea and received a grant to fund it from the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) administered by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Barnes said he believes the Wausau Police Department is the first in the nation to have a trained therapist on its staff.

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“When we were applying for this grant and putting together this program, we really searched nationwide for police departments who might have already come up with this idea and have something similar,” Barnes said. “And we can’t find anyone who provides free mental health services for victims of crime.”

Barnes said when officers respond to crimes, they gather evidence and then have to leave for other assignments, often leaving crime victims without the support they need.

“Having people on staff who are able to stay and answer questions, to tell people what comes next, and address any of their feelings or their needs, is so beneficial to police officers so we don’t feel like we’re leaving people hanging,” Barnes said.

It took six months to fill the position. In early March, Kristen Seidler, a state licensed mental health therapist from Eau Claire, took the job.

“We’re all aware that there isn’t a program like this in the country, and so I thought it would be a really cool thing to help get it off the ground,” Seidler said.

Seidler was on the job less than three weeks when a shooting in the Wausau area left four people dead. She had to deliver the bad news and provide comfort to the victims’ friends and family.

“I just gave people the opportunity to talk about how they were feeling, to just spill your guts, cry, yell, swear, whatever you really need to do and just get that out without the fear of being judged,” Seidler said.

The sooner a therapist can talk to crime victims, the less likely they are to develop post-traumatic stress disorder, Seidler said.

The $190,000 grant also funds a full-time police detective to work with crime victims.

The Milwaukee Police Department provides counseling for victims in high crime areas through its Milwaukee Trauma Response Initiative, which relies on Milwaukee County’s team of mental health professionals.

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