On the Wellness Beat

In April, Aaron Soumala Folkerds officially became a paid member of the Moorhead Police Department.

But he’s not carrying a gun. Can’t show you a badge. And you won’t find him behind the wheel of a squad car.

Aaron Folkerds

Instead, Folkerds — who graduated in December with a doctorate from Minnesota State Mankato’s Counselor Education and Supervision program—has a different task: He’s one of just a handful of on-site police department employees around the country whose job it is to look after the wellness and mental health of both officers and civilian staff.

His job is twofold: debrief officers after traumatic incidents (such as police shootings, suicide calls, etc.), and also be a conduit for officers and civilian staff to enhance their physical, emotional, financial and spiritual wellness.

Folkerds works with the Moorhead Police Department on a part-time basis. He’s also a full-time faculty member in the counseling education department at Minnesota State University Moorhead. He’s worked with the police department for five years as a chaplain (he’s an ordained minister), but his official role as wellness coordinator kicked off in April.

Folkerds on Graduation Day, 2019

While he’s relatively new to the “beat,” the department already has made use of his services. 

“Unintended deaths, suicide calls, helping them process when they see significant trauma—that ends up being what the debriefings are about,” Folkerds says. “That takes a toll on you, becomes imprinted on your brain.”

This position is a unique one. Folkerds said he’s done a bit of research and found there are only a handful of such positions around the country, and they’re mostly in bigger cities. He hasn’t found any in departments the size of Moorhead’s.

Moorhead Police Chief Shannon Monroe, who has been with the department for more than 20 years, says Folkerds came on board just in time. With police officers across the country thrust into the spotlight because of the George Floyd killing in Minneapolis, stress and pressure is rising. Monroe hopes Folkerds can be a calming presence in these trying times.

It’s also just as likely that any given day can produce a call that could benefit from having an embedded counselor on staff. 

Folkerds meeting with Chief Shannon Monroe of the Moorhead Police Department.  

Folkerds got called in on a recent Sunday after police were called to an unresponsive 9-month-old baby. Four officers took turns trying to revive the child, but were ultimately unsuccessful.

It was Father’s Day. Folkerds came in and debriefed the officers.

“I ended up getting emails from a couple of them,” Monroe said. “They said they were very appreciative of him being there, and that it was helpful to work through some of those issues.”

Folkerds says his full-time faculty job is ideal for him, and his education at Minnesota State Mankato opened doors to help him get where he is now.

“The doctoral program not only helped me to hone my skills as a counselor but also helped me to discover how much I love to teach,” he says. “As a result of getting my doctoral degree, I have been able to find new and creative ways of serving my community, like my work with the Moorhead Police Department.”