In 2020, I attended an IACP-sponsored officer health and wellness seminar where the director of our regional peer support team and I were tasked with creating a family support group for law enforcement personnel. Our agency, along with three others from across the country, met privately to create a viable solution for families.
Departments like the LAPD and Huntington Beach P.D. in California were also present and have been at the forefront of including families in the discussion. This is imperative because families have a front-row seat to the fallout a career in law enforcement can have on officers. It isn’t just the officer who carries the burdens of a stressful career, and families rarely come out unscathed. Spouses are generally the first to recognize changes in an officer’s behavior and witness the effects of trauma, stress and long hours. Until now, these families haven’t had the resources or trusted services to reach out to.
So, how did we address this while mitigating the unique culture of law enforcement?
Facebook support group
The first accomplishment was creating a private Facebook group for officers and their extended family members. This group is administered and monitored 24/7 by selected members of our regional support team. In this group, team members, clinicians and LEO family members can post articles, comment on each other’s posts and support one another through meaningful dialogue. These private groups serve as a sounding board and online bulletin board for important information and resources. Since its inception, I have had countless officers and their spouses express sincere gratitude for providing a safe haven for the excluded and forgotten.
We maintain the group’s integrity and privacy by vetting every member who requests or has been invited to join. We accomplish this by including a mandatory questionnaire inquiring about the officer and their agency and then confirming the answers. Members of this group must be an officer (current or retired) or a family member or significant other of an officer. We have also included strict confidentiality and privacy rules that are firmly adhered to, no exceptions. Lastly, we do not allow any arguing, gossip or solicitation of any kind.
This group has proven to be an invaluable resource for LEO families during COVID and the George Floyd era of policing. To date, we haven’t had any issues and will continue to maintain a high standard.
Including spouses in peer support
Imagine this: Your spouse was just involved in a shooting. They’re physically OK, but mentally none of you are. Who would you want to converse with? A ranking member of your spouse’s department, or a fellow LEO spouse who has already been through the same scenario? After speaking with officers and their spouses, we realized families would prefer to speak with strategically matched individuals, with experience, outside of the involved agency.
This can be accomplished by recruiting interested family members and exposing them to the same training that members of our peer support team have completed. Further, these individuals would be put through an interview process assessing their experience, commitment and understanding of the role. This is the same rigorous process our regional peer support team members must successfully complete.
The end result is strategically selected spouses with the proper training to assist families in navigating the inevitable struggles a career in law enforcement carries.
Our main goal is to include families in the discussion of officer health and wellness. This isn’t just about the officers, either. We want to provide resources and services for LEO families who are struggling under the weight of the badge. This practice has proven its value because it provides a voice to the silent sufferers and, at the very least, gives them the option for help and vetted resources.
A healthy family unit is imperative for officer health and wellness. It’s time to start thinking outside the box with innovative and inclusive systems that elicit meaningful change.
I’ll leave you with the words of the great Winston Churchill: “There is no doubt that it is around the family and the home that all the greatest virtues, the most dominating virtues of human society, are created, strengthened and maintained.”