International

Challenge to Parliament shutdown wrapping up at UK top court

LONDON (AP) — Britain’s Supreme Court was hearing final arguments Thursday in a case that will determine whether Prime Minister Boris Johnson broke the law by suspending Parliament just weeks before the U.K. is due to leave the European Union.

Judges at the country’s top court were set to hear from a lawyer for the former prime minister, John Major, who is among those challenging the decision by Johnson, one of his successors as Conservative leader.

Opponents claim Johnson sent lawmakers home until Oct. 14 to prevent them scrutinizing his plan to take Britain out of the EU at the end of next month, with or without a divorce deal. They also accuse the prime minister of misleading Queen Elizabeth II, whose formal approval was needed to suspend the legislature.

The government says the suspension is routine and not motivated by Brexit, and argues that judges should not interfere in politics.

The 11 Supreme Court justices are unlikely to give their judgment before Friday at the earliest. If the court rules that the suspension was illegal, Johnson could be forced to call lawmakers back to Parliament.

It would be a new blow for Johnson, who is battling to fulfil his pledge to lead Britain out of the EU on the scheduled date of Oct. 31 come what may.

Johnson insists he is working hard to get an agreement with the EU that will ensure a smooth departure. EU leaders are skeptical of that claim, saying the U.K. has not produced any concrete proposals.

Finland’s Prime Minister Antti Rinne warned that “it’s all over” if Britain didn’t come up with solid new Brexit proposals by the end of the month.

“If the U.K. wants to discuss alternatives to the existing exit agreement, then these must be presented before the end of the month,” Rinne said after meeting French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris on Wednesday.

Finland currently holds the rotating presidency of the 28-nation bloc.

Britain says it has not revealed detailed proposals because they would likely leak, to the detriment of negotiations.

U.K. Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay said the six weeks until Oct. 31 were “sufficient for a deal” if both sides provided “creative and flexible solutions.”

“A rigid approach now at this point is no way to progress a deal and the responsibility sits with both sides to find a solution,” he said during a visit to Madrid.

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Hamilton County’s ‘Wellness Unit’ part of nationwide effort to improve mental health among officers

NOBLESVILLE, Ind. (WISH) — An initiative to improve employee well-being at the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office is among a spate of efforts across the nation to address mental health concerns among officers.

Sheriff Dennis Quakenbush announced the department’s new “Wellness Unit”  — devoted to the physical, mental and spiritual health of its deputies, correctional officers and civilian employees — Friday in a Facebook post.

“Our guys really care about the public,” he said Monday in an interview with News 8. “When you see somebody who’s injured or victimized, it really impacts us… We’re only human.”

The Wellness Unit launched in January with funding approved by county council members and commissioners.

Appointments are held off-site at undisclosed locations to protect the privacy of employees. Supervisors are not briefed on which employees seek counseling or what they discuss during sessions.

Information gathered during counseling sessions will not be used to demote or discipline employees, and will only be disclosed if required by law, including when somebody poses an immediate danger to themselves or others.

The department’s entire staff will receive training related to suicide prevention, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, critical incidents, addiction, mindfulness and officer wellness, the sheriff said.

Nearly 1 in 4 police officers has thoughts of suicide at some point in their life, according to the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI); the suicide rate for police officers is four times higher than the rate for firefighters.

Years of daily exposure to stress, trauma and tragedy can have other devastating consequences if appropriate coping skills are not developed, according to Susan Sherer-Vincent, a licensed clinical social worker, certified alcoholism counselor and licensed marriage and family therapist involved in launching the Wellness Unit.

“Think of the hurricanes that come in, in Florida, and think of the palm trees where they bend,” she explained. “But then, what happens afterwards? They go back up. That’s called resilience. We want our officers to bend, not break.”

Until approximately 3 to 5 years ago, officers were often conditioned to “pull [themselves] up by the bootstraps and go to the next call” instead of addressing personal struggles, Sherer-Vincent said.

Cultivating resiliency can be difficult within a law enforcement culture that equates mental health challenges with “weakness,” she said.

“[Officers] are trained to have the warrior mentality,” Sherer-Vincent told News 8. “Truly, they would have been made fun of [in the past for seeking counseling].”

She compared strong, silent officers with underdeveloped coping skills to California’s famed redwood trees.

“They’re pretty sturdy. But what would happen if you took an ax and hit those every single day, day after day, for years? They would eventually fall,” she said.

Quakenbush credits his wife, church and non-law enforcement friends with providing “a really good support system.”

“But sometimes, you need a professional,” he said, urging employees to “talk through” negative emotions instead of turning to alcohol and other substances for temporary relief.

Several internal cases that resulted in disciplinary action during his year-long tenure as sheriff may have been prevented with wellness-focused intervention, Quakenbush said.

He was unable to comment on personnel matters. 

Sources within the department indicated some of the cases involved employees with substance abuse issues that had escalated over time, possibly as a result of work-related stress that had gone unaddressed. 

“I wouldn’t say that [disciplinary action] was happening often,” Quakenbush told News 8. “But seeing it happen and knowing that we probably could have done something about it made it impactful and something that we wanted to make a priority.”

Hamilton County announced its Wellness Unit days after New York City police officials revealed plans to hire a team of psychologists to combat a spike in officer suicides.

On Feb. 13, Indianapolis police officials said they planned to swear in the department’s first full-time therapy dog by the end of March.

  • FIND SUPPORT: Learn more about supporting law enforcement wellness on NAMI.org

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