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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services
The names of 394 officers have been added to the Law Enforcement Officer Memorial so far in 2021, most having fallen in 2020. This unfortunate number underscores the risk associated with a career in law enforcement, but it does not tell the story about the impact of exposure to repeated emotional stress inherent to a career in law enforcement. One hundred seventy-one officers died by suicide in 2020, and throughout the field, mental health issues have not routinely been addressed at a level commensurate with the need that exists throughout the profession.
To bring attention to officer mental health and advocate for additional support, Thin Blue Line Motorsports (TBLM) is building a National Hotrod Association (NHRA) dragster intended to create greater awareness of the emotional sacrifices made by officers. TBLM was created by Russ and Lori Vernali. Russ is a former Southington (Connecticut) Police Department officer who currently works as a Special Agent for the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division and is trained in critical incident stress management, crisis intervention, and peer support. He is also a former NHRA Division 1 Top Dragster champion who has competed in and won many events. Lori is a Law Enforcement Coordinator with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of South Carolina and is actively involved in creating programs to assist law enforcement agencies with an emphasis on officer safety and wellness.
Development of their hot rod initially began as Russ’s coping mechanism to help deal with the day-to-day stresses associated with working as an officer. However, it quickly became apparent the car could be used as a platform to broadly promote law enforcement safety and wellness. Lori and Russ were also inspired to do more with their dragster by the story of Trish Buchanan, who founded Believe 208, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the memory of her late husband, East Hartford (Connecticut) Officer Paul Buchanan, who took his own life.
Today the goal of building the dragster has evolved from a personal pursuit to an effort to encourage informal discussions about law enforcement mental health and safety. TBLM also seeks to provide law enforcement officers and their families with resources that help them understand the impact of trauma, signs of suicidal ideation, and post-traumatic stress injury (PTSI), as well as information about the current trends in safety.
The graphics on the car were designed to serve as a rolling memorial to fallen officers. The top of the car lists the end-of-watch date for officers either killed in the line of duty or who took their own lives in the last 10 years. There are more than 2000 dates on the car, and updates are needed far too often. TBLM is still working to complete aspects of the car that will make it raceable, but the dragster makes appearances at non-racing events where it is most important to bring attention to officer suicide, line-of-duty deaths, and the hard reality that the work of combatting officer PTSI is far from done.
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