Proactive principles of organizational wellness are essential, not only for individual officer and dispatcher survivability and wellness, but also for optimal functionality of the agency. Such wellness principles ensure the highest level of professional service, agency effectiveness and adaptability, positive community engagements and partnerships, and strategic mechanisms for mutual support and assistance.
What is organizational wellness?
No matter how well a law enforcement organization functions, there are always opportunities for improvement. There are various degrees of dysfunction within every agency. The greater the dysfunction, the more impaired the officers are, the less professional service is rendered and the more officers tend to suffer from the impacts of their work traumas. All of this cumulatively affects the safety and well-being of the communities served.
Agencies practicing organizational wellness tend to have minimal dysfunction. There is generally trust between colleagues, as well as between line personnel and their supervisors and managers. There is open communication throughout the various units and divisions of the organization, as well as between stakeholders in the community and the agency.
Personnel within such agencies tend to be highly motivated and self-initiated. They enjoy working for the organization because it welcomes creative ideas and offers avenues for constructive change. There tend to be mechanisms in place that support initiatives with positive reinforcement of wellness strategies and peer support. Officers are engaged with the agency and strive to advance.
Supervisors have as one of their core responsibilities the role of being their subordinates’ primary care provider as it pertains to work. This involves positive interactions, support, guidance and assistance in not only being professional, but also maintaining and improving overall health and wellness. Supervisors’ actions tend to prove that they have their officers’ best interests at heart, and they make their subordinates feel valued and appreciated.
Within agencies that practice organizational wellness, there is a reinforced and evolving culture of wellness and support with proactive peer support teams. These peer support teams proactively develop wellness initiatives, resources, training, outreach and information to enable officers and dispatchers to develop and maintain physical, emotional, mental and spiritual fitness.
These agencies encourage positive community outreach and have transparency in field operations and investigations. There tend to be fewer instances of sustained use of excessive force and complaints. Such agencies are adaptable to the changing needs of the community and the wellness needs of their officers while always looking for ways to improve.
What will happen to me?
Within the mind of nearly every officer and dispatcher is the often unanswered question, “What will happen to me if I ever come forward and ask the agency for help?” There tends to be great distrust and suspicion in officers’ minds about how the agency will react. This uncertainty and fear of the agency responding negatively is one of the greatest structural barriers preventing officers and dispatchers from seeking help when they may so desperately need it.
How does your agency answer this question? What policies and procedures are in place — and what more can be done — that would prove to an officer that coming forward for help would be a positive experience for them?
Ideally, every officer should be able to answer the question of “What will happen to me?” There is a great deal supervisors and managers can do to alleviate the real concerns of their officers who may need help. The process of what would happen needs to be clearly explained and reinforced through positive action when an officer does come forward. There need to be mechanisms in place that clearly demonstrate the supportive response of the agency, as well as proactive ways for the agency to positively intervene to provide assistance before job performance deteriorates.
Police chiefs and administrators should want and welcome an officer to come forward because they need healthy officers in order to sustain a healthy organization. The last thing an officer should fear is losing their job. The highest priority for the administration should be engaging the officer in need in supportive ways to provide whatever assistance would be helpful and allow a safe path of return when the officer recovers.
The message from administrators practicing organizational wellness is: “It’s OK to be human. It’s all right to be affected by this job.” It should be expected that officers seek help, utilize peer support, talk with trauma professionals or get eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy as needed.
Proactive strategies for organizational wellness
Organizational wellness should be practiced from recruitment to retirement. This involves structuring entry-level questions during recruitment and initial testing to determine if the candidate has a history of resiliency and personal wellness practices. During the academy, mentors who embody wellness and resiliency can be assigned to each recruit to share their experiences of trauma and ways they’ve found to recover and heal.
Field training and later in-service training needs to address emotional survival and wellness strategies. Peer support teams should be primarily proactive rather than just reactive, developing ongoing training, resources and wellness information for the agency. Annual evaluations should involve supervisors, as their subordinates’ primary care providers, having discussions regarding emotional survival and ways the supervisor and the agency can support the officer.
Almost no agency uses its retirees for any productive service. Certain retirees could become great assets to the peer support team in offering their wealth of experience regarding emotional survival to their colleagues still serving. They could be academy mentors, offer in-service training and provide any other service where they could still contribute in positive ways that would benefit both the agency and the retiree.
Internal affairs investigations should be done in the most timely, professional and complete manner possible. Far too many officers have experienced the internal affairs process and come out the other side hating the agency, perceiving the process to be unfair and believing it took far too long and was hopelessly flawed. Organizational wellness should include an internal affairs process that doesn’t leave the officers, both innocent and guilty, despising the agency.
Critical incident stress management debriefings and defusings should be conducted for every incident where a supervisor deems it helpful and should involve everyone involved in the incident, including call takers and dispatchers.
Structures and mechanisms that promote organizational wellness create a culture of support, positive engagement and creative avenues for any person within the agency to work toward constructive change. Proactive wellness initiatives on an ongoing basis are imperative for officer resilience, agency effectiveness and professionalism, positive community impact and safe communities.
As seen in the May 2021 issue of American Police Beat magazine.
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