If you have a malfunction or want to update the trigger on your firearm, you bring it to the armorer. If there’s an issue with your cruiser, you fill out a slip and notify the vehicle maintenance officer. If your radio is staticky, there’s a person for that. Designated infection control officers. Field training officers. Detail hiring officers. Domestic violence officers, statisticians, court officers, evidence control officers and on and on the list goes.
These are all assignments within most police agencies today. Each of these positions requires formal training, continuing education and some level of certification. Great, we have our radios, cars, guns, stats and details covered. Who’s in charge of the health and well-being of the actual officers using all those things? Currently, no one.
Sure, wellness is covered in the academy for a short six-month timeframe and, in most places, never prioritized again. Think about that for a moment. We invest all this time in ensuring our officers are in tip-top shape to begin their careers. Upon graduation, we do nothing to ensure officers are maintaining those standards and don’t provide any resources for those looking to stay healthy. We make sure officers aren’t insane via a psych test before they start their careers. What’s being done to assess their mental well-being after years of domestics, fatals, suicides and murders? What trusted resources do we have within our own agencies?
I propose we start training interested officers to be health and wellness officers. You can even call them HWOs or HOs or whatever clever acronym you can think of. Every department has a handful of guys and girls interested in physical fitness, nutrition and mental health. Why not celebrate these individuals, capitalize on their passions and put them in a position to help their own?
It’s no secret that the overwhelming ramifications a career in law enforcement can have on an officer’s health. Stress, shift work, poor diet, alcohol consumption and lack of sleep all contribute to our short life expectancy. Further, from day one in the academy, we are inundated with an “adapt and overcome” mentality. Well, why aren’t we adapting to the stressors and overcoming them in new inventive ways? The state powers that be love to introduce, update and mandate trainings to navigate the current climate and social pulse for everyone and everything except us.
It’s an inarguable fact this job will make you unhealthier. So, let’s put together a comprehensive training covering all facets of health and send our officers. Select them, train them, certify them and reap the benefits. These officers will have the tools necessary to help “Officer Smith” with his nagging back pain that could result in costly medical claims, sick time and shift vacancies. I think COVID shed a tremendous light on the obesity issue in this country, and let’s face it, very few cops are anywhere near their academy weight. Why!? If you’ve done the job for any amount of time, you know that’s a loaded question.
OK, so we know there’s a problem. How do we fix it? The reality is most cops don’t like to ask for help or are intimidated about seeking guidance from outside sources — especially regarding their mental and physical health. We can facilitate this by empowering our own and providing those resources in-house. I’m willing to bet municipalities will see fewer injury claims, less sick time and have healthier, happier, and sharper cops on the street. Everybody wins.
We spend so much time and effort on everyone else’s ills, we’ve forgotten to treat our own. I’ll leave you with some powerful facts.
A 2011 study titled “Health Disparities in Police Officers: Comparisons to the U.S. General Population” concluded the following:
- Police officers have one of the poorest cardiovascular disease (CVD) health profiles of any occupation.
- The percentage of officers with depression was nearly double (12% versus 6.8%), and officers were nearly four times more likely to sleep less than six hours in a 24-hour period than the general population (33% versus 8%).
- A higher percentage of officers were obese (40.5% versus 32.1%), had the metabolic syndrome (26.7% versus 18.7%) and had higher mean serum total cholesterol levels (200.8 mg/dL versus 193.2 mg/dL) than the comparison employed populations.
- In addition to having higher levels of traditional CVD risk factors, police officers had higher levels of non-traditional CVD risk factors.
There’s a problem. It’s real and measurable. It’s time to act and stop failing the fine men and women of law enforcement who sacrifice more than you’ll ever know for complete strangers.
“That which is measured improves. That which is measured and reported improves exponentially.”
— Karl Pearson (1857–1936), founder of the modern field of statistics, a prominent proponent of eugenics and influential interpreter of the philosophy and social role of science.
We’ll see, Karl …
As seen in the September 2021 issue of American Police Beat magazine.
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