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Salem Police teams with Salem Health to promote awareness in September
by Oregon State Media, Inc.
  Thursday September 7, 2017 - 1:41 AM
The tragedy of suicide is one experienced by families in our community. In Salem, police, medical and mental health services frequently work hand-in-hand in response to those who have or are considering taking their life. Fittingly, Salem Police and Salem Health are working hand-in-hand to raise awareness this September which is designated as Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.

"Hitting the streets of Salem on September 7 will be a purple and turquoise patrol vehicle to help elevate the conversation of this complex and tragic issue," said Deputy Chief Steve Bellshaw of the Salem Police Support Division.

In 2016 there were 771 suicides in Oregon compared to 129 homicides. According to the Oregon Health Authority, by August 1 of this year, 442 suicides had already occurred. Moreover, suicide has become the second leading cause for death of people aged 10-24 in Oregon. "We must start to reverse this trend by raising awareness in our community," said Salem Health community relations liaison Bryce Peterson.

To that end, the made-over patrol vehicle will carry the phone number to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 800-273-TALK or 800-273-8255. The toll-free phone line is open 24 hours every day. In Oregon, the phone number is staffed by Lines for Life crisis center staff and volunteers ready to provide free and confidential support for people in emotional distress. Salem Police also partners with Lines for Life. Shared Bellshaw, "Officers assigned to the Tactical Negotiations Team volunteer to answer phones at the center and spend time speaking with individuals who need support and a caring ear to listen."

Above the number, residents will also see the hashtags #support and #awareness as a way of drawing others in conversation about the topic of suicide through social media.

Since 2010 the Salem Police Department has incrementally dedicated staffing for crisis outreach response by pairing an officer with a qualified mental health professional. The program began with a half-time officer, then in 2013 the position became full-time in Marion County. Full-time outreach was achieved in 2016 in Polk County. In 2017 a sergeant was added to oversee the team, known as the Mental Health Unit. Said Bellshaw, "The unit's goal is to deliver services to people in crisis in an effort to provide long term solutions and reduce the need for police response."

As with other awareness wrap vehicles done by the police department, the project was made possible through the efforts of the Salem Police Foundation. "The foundation has been instrumental in helping us raise awareness and start conversations about topics which touch the Salem community. Bringing Salem Police and Salem Health together for this project was perfect because they are also passionate about the safety of the residents we serve," explained Bellshaw.

Salem Health will continue to shine the suicide prevention and awareness beacon through the Out of the Darkness Walk to Fight Suicide on Saturday, October 14, 2017 at Riverfront Park. Contact Michael Polacek at for more information. #S#P#D

Members of the media are invited to a press conference for the presentation of the special-wrapped patrol vehicle on Thursday, September 7 at 9:30 a.m. on the campus of Salem Health, 665 Winter ST SE, Building A.

Representatives from Salem Health and the Salem Police Foundation will be in attendance for a short presentation about the rig wrap project. Also available for interviews will be Salem Police command staff and officers from the Salem Police Mental Health Unit and their partners from the Marion and Polk County Behavioral Health Services. American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Executive Director Ryan Price will also be in attendance.

For more information about the press event, contact Angie Hedrick, Salem Police community relations analyst at 503-932-5178.

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