The thought of retiring has crossed a police officer’s mind a thousand times as they strategize throughout their law enforcement career on when that special day would arrive. Now the day has come and you have completed 20, 25 or 30 years of service. You have checked out of your department, relocated to that much-talked-about out-of-state location and you have finally settled into your new home where you will build new memories post-retirement. Time passes and life is good, but you realize you still maintain that servant’s heart. You are still connected to your chosen profession via contact with former partners, which means you’re up to speed on the current state of affairs in police work. You see and hear the latest news coverage of anti-police sentiment and you read about the hatred aimed toward our last line of defense. You are well aware of the protests, mass shootings, maximum deployments, forced overtime, staff shortages and canceled days off from your days on the force. Then you listen to the disturbing conversation about the high rate of anxiety, stress, depression, mental health issues and suicide within our chosen profession.
It is this moment that you realize you have to take action by helping in some way to support our modern-day peacekeepers. Even though you’re in retirement mode and in a phase of life that is supposed to be your twilight years of peace and tranquility, you realize, “What good am I as a seasoned veteran if I can’t help those still wearing the badge?” In comes the volunteer conversation. From the comfort of their homes, whether it’s on a ranch, a mountain cabin, a small suburb or rural area of the country, our team of retired police officers from across the nation experience that feeling of volunteerism, that deep-rooted desire of joining the right team and the right mission to help officers in times of need.
At CopLine, our mission is clear and our message is solid: “Cops understand cops; we want to answer your call!” At CopLine, we are forever indebted to the over 100 retired police officers from various agencies who have stepped up to volunteer by working on our 24/7/365 crisis hotline. From California to New York and Montana to Florida, our team members are providing coverage on a volunteer scale never before seen on a crisis hotline dedicated for police officers, both active duty and retired, as well as their family members. Not only have these veterans of law enforcement applied to join our team but they have traveled to our training venue, often times out of state and on their own dime, to attend our mandatory active listener course. We all know that finances and budgeting are challenging in our retirement years, yet our police veterans realized that this volunteer position could be one of the most satisfying assignments in their life and one that requires immediate attention.
Our CopLine volunteers complete a weeklong course that covers topics such as mental illness, trauma/burnout, life-threatening illness, coping skills, grief/loss, suicide risk assessment and suicidology. It is because of our decision to only use retired officers as listeners that we have been able to earn recognition and respect among our law enforcement community. It literally takes seconds for a bond to form between a caller and a listener once we have been vetted; the whole “walk the walk” cliché is real when seeking someone you can trust. Our volunteers have been successful in providing support by being there and listening to the officer with understanding and empathy for their current situation. If an officer requires clinical support, then our volunteers are able to provide referrals to vetted mental health professionals. Since our crisis line is completely confidential and callers often remain anonymous, we have established an environment that allows officers to vent freely without any fear of repercussions and/or retaliation.
CopLine is a haven for officers who have no one to turn to, and it is an outlet to those officers who find themselves navigating the stigma issue that is embedded in the law enforcement community. The thought of one’s true story being revealed to their agency generates a level of fear that can become unbearable. Those stories of officers’ careers being affected are frequent. Removal from office, selection to coveted assignments, promotions and pensions have been tainted once an officer’s mental health status is known, especially in smaller and rural departments across the nation with limited resources. The officer wellness narrative and culture are changing for the better; however, there is much more work to be done on various levels.
At CopLine, we are part of the solution — being there for an officer right here and right now. Our listeners have become that backup officer everyone needs, and we are grateful that our callers have realized that it’s time to take care of themselves. Police officers display courage daily while responding to calls for service, and we are thankful that they use that same courage to trust us and reach out in times of need. We are a free outside resource that every agency should provide to their personnel. If anyone is interested in being a listener on the hotline, please visit our website for volunteer opportunities at copline.org.