What: the “mother of all battles”
This literally means “the great battle,” “the mighty battle,” perhaps “the decisive battle.” We entered the battle in 2018. It is a long war. Our army is called the LAPD Resilience Task Force, but we can all be soldiers in this army. Our mission: zero suicides during the calendar year. Not just zero officer suicides, but zero employee suicides. It’s a bold goal. So bold, in fact, that this author hesitated to agree to it.
Why hesitate to agree? LAPD typically averages two suicides a year and continues to have at least one suicide even in years when they make a concerted and targeted effort, such as a massive organization-wide campaign where they have — at great time and expense — rolled out a new public health DVD and tailored trainings across the department.
So, to achieve mission success — zero suicides in a calendar year — they had to be different. They had to do things differently. They had to aim for far more than just the bullseye. They had to shoot buckshot because of the size of the target and the desire to ensure that they hit the mark, that they take no chances to maximize their probability for success.
Why: to save lives
To help employees build resilience and have long healthy lives and careers. To help everyone survive the job! To answer the 64-million-dollar question: What do we need to do to work long term in this profession and have a good life?
Who: key stakeholders
Internal and external stakeholders were identified, and all were working together to examine what the department was doing well and what needed to be added or changed for greater individual and collective resilience. Law enforcement agencies must be willing to engage in professional self-examination. You can do that regardless of where you work or the size of your agency.
Who are your key stakeholders? Solicit a diverse and representative group. At LAPD, a grassroots effort to increase suicide awareness and prevention was inspired by personal loss: a patrol officer’s widow, along with a tenured officer and two police psychologists, wanted to change things. They had a desire to walk together, to remember those who did not survive. It was named the “Heart of LAPD Walk.” It is not a race. It is a gathering of the tribe.
The fire quickly grew to include police psychologists, Peer Support, the military liaison, Employees Assistance Unit, the police officers’ union, police chaplains, the LAPD Wives, and, yes, the chief of police. All working together. Bottom to top and top to bottom. The Resilience Task Force (RTF) was born.
The RTF borrowed the concept from community mental health — nothing about us without us — so the South Bureau police psychologists literally went to every watch in every station and every employee throughout an entire bureau and asked all sworn and civilian personnel how to ensure zero suicides. You can, and should, ask your personnel this, too. Solicit the feedback themes. Use active listening skills. Then begin to get ahead of the problem.
How: the battle plan
Vision: Think about the department you want to become. How do you envision the department showing up to prevent suicides, to respond to suicidal employees and to respond in the aftermath of a suicide? Be as detailed, specific and relevant as possible. Everything ties back to this battle plan vision. Use employee feedback.
LAPD’s vision includes increasing the overall resilience of the department as a whole (and hence, the department’s RTF was conceived). This is part of the vision for how LAPD wants to show up to prevent suicide. Any department can do this. It costs nothing, yet the potential payoff is big. Greater resilience will not prevent pandemics or protests, but it will increase the department’s capacity to bounce back and to do so more quickly.
Objectives: Over the next 12 months, what specifically do you want the department to accomplish in each of the four quadrants — calibration (mind, body, spirit, well-being), connection (relationships), condition (physical and mental health), contribution (becoming a department of value)?
LAPD’s objectives in the connection quadrant include the Heart of LAPD Walk. This is now an annual event every September during National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. It is a 5K walk to acknowledge and remember colleagues we have lost, to emotionally support their families and each other. It is also a time to hope, honor and heal.
The walk takes place in person at the Academy, but departments across the U.S. and around the world have been participating virtually, and so can you. Register (for free) at eventbrite.com (enter “Heart of LAPD” in the search bar), and let’s walk together!
Tactics: What are one or two measurable tactics you will complete on a daily basis to work toward the 12-month (or annual) objectives? Remember, the objectives tie back into the overall vision for the department.
LAPD’s tactics include talking about suicide openly without fear or shame (in daily roll calls, in the locker rooms, at the water cooler, on ride-alongs with the department police psychologist and more). This tactic alone can help prevent suicide and costs nothing. But know that how any department talks about suicide can be helpful or harmful. Messaging should support safety, help-seeking and healing. Promote the positive — positive actions, positive solutions, positive successes and positive resources. Do not repeat The Onion Field.
Another tactic recommended by LAPD is to provide tangible reminders of your department program or campaign. For example, begin incorporating an addendum to your signature block to remind all internal and external recipients, for example, that September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. Please see above for Commander Brockway’s email signature block this month.
Checkpoints: What are your 30-day and 60-day checkpoints for each quadrant? These checkpoints will allow you and the department to ensure progress toward meeting objectives. As such, you can adjust the course as needed along the way to ensure victory.
One of LAPD’s checkpoints for contribution (or becoming a department of value) was to open the Heart of LAPD Walk to other agencies. Other agencies could participate in-person at the LAPD Academy, if they wished, or simply virtually wherever they were on that day around the world. Deployed military men and women regularly participate in virtual races and walks in order to join loved ones for something beyond themselves, and this writer proposed that the virtual walks do just that for our law enforcement families.
When: start now
Start with you. Start where you are. Do not wait to put other resources or more people in place. This can be done on a shoestring budget. LAPD entered the battle in 2018, and they welcome you in the foxhole.
A foxhole implies a defensive fighting position (DFP), but do not kid yourself. This is more so an offensive fighting maneuver designed to protect, nurture and sustain your most critical assets and achieve mission success. Just by virtue of you reading this article, you are likely the shortstop on your department’s suicide prevention team. Stay up on your toes! Do not sit back on your heels! Stay mindful! Keep your attention focused on suicide prevention and awareness efforts. Be the ultimate MLB shortstop. Be the soul of the infield. Be the playmaker, the leader for your department.