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Trump says Chad Wolf to be next acting DHS secretary

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump on Friday said Chad Wolf, a longtime Homeland Security official, would be the new acting head of the department, the fifth person in the job for this administration.

But Trump’s casual announcement, made in response to a reporter’s question outside the White House, temporarily created more uncertainty about who was in charge of the sprawling department.

There have been weeks of speculation over who would be named the next leader, and Kevin McAleenan, the current acting secretary, has agreed to stay on temporarily. The department initially wouldn’t confirm Wolf was next in line, saying only that McAleenan was acting secretary.

When a reporter asked Trump directly whether Wolf was to be the next DHS secretary, the president responded, “He’s acting, and we’ll see what happens.”

White House spokesman Hogan Gidley later clarified.

“As the president has said, Kevin McAleenan has done a tremendous job. He’ll be leaving after Veterans’ Day and after he departs, Chad Wolf will serve as acting secretary in the interim,” Gidley told reporters.

The elevation of Wolf, who has served in Democratic and Republican administrations, is likely to disappoint immigration hardliners and perhaps Trump himself. The White House had been trying to work around rules that prevented Trump from promoting several political allies to at least temporarily run the agency that carries out U.S. immigration policies.

Wolf was chief of staff to former DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. He has been involved with the 240,000-person department off and on since its creation following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Wolf worked with Nielsen through many of the administration’s most challenging immigration issues but left as her chief of staff to take on another role within Homeland Security before she resigned in April.

He was nominated earlier this year to a Senate-confirmed position as Under Secretary of the department’s Office of Strategy, Policy and Plans. That nomination has not been yet confirmed.

He is described by some colleagues as a knowledgeable and widely respected member of the department who can carry on the president’s agenda.

But he was not initially discussed as a successor.

For weeks, various factions have been looking for legal blocks and workarounds as they sparred over who was eligible to succeed McAleenan. Federal vacancy rules that place restrictions on the position had been thought to bar immigration hardliner Ken Cuccinelli, currently the acting head of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and Mark Morgan, the current acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, from taking the job.

But officials recently identified a “loophole” in which Trump could appoint otherwise ineligible individuals by first tapping them to lead the Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office — a post that is vacant.

It’s possible Wolf could take over temporarily while the work-around is put into place.

The massive department was initially envisioned as a cohesive counterterrorism operation. It includes the Coast Guard as well as disaster relief and election security. But in Trump’s world, Homeland Security means one thing: immigration.

The president’s signature issue has led Trump to focus on the department and balancing a White House eager to push major changes with the reality on the ground is a daunting and constant challenge. Plus, factions within the White House often cause friction on immigration, and this decision was no different.

Wolf’s nomination was met with some pushback from hardliners who felt his policies aligned too closely with Nielsen’s. But White House officials did not want to bump up too closely against the laws on who can lead and when, even though many of the department’s leaders are not in permanent positions.

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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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