Officer wellness and resilience, integrated through training and resources, form the foundation for officer safety; professional, ethical and effective police services; sound tactical decisions; community safety and partnerships; individual success and positive community impact. Therefore, the most important responsibility that any agency, manager or supervisor has is to take care of their people and to create mechanisms for support within a culture of wellness and resilience. Below are suggestions to consider in assisting officers to effectively process and heal from the daily traumas of the profession.
Culture of wellness
Developing a culture of wellness includes creating and maintaining effective peer support teams that are proactive in their outreach and engagements, and that also incorporate a chaplain.
It’s essential for officers to have access to EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing; see EMDRIA.org) trauma professionals. EMDR is endorsed by the International Association of Chiefs of Police and is likely the most effective way to recover and heal from traumas.
Whatever an agency can do to identify and reduce the barriers of officers seeking help, and to normalize the process of getting help when affected by work traumas, will ensure the highest resilience and wellness for them.
Wellness from recruitment to retirement
Supervisors and management should enable wellness initiatives for positive change, with resilience training and resources that address the needs of their officers and dispatchers from recruitment to retirement.
For example, a wellness and resilience mentor could be assigned to academy recruits to discuss how the daily work traumas can affect them and ways to recover from traumas. Peer support personnel or even certain retirees who want to give back to those just beginning their police service career could serve in this capacity.
Instilling resilience practices during the FTO phase of training is important to equip the new officer with the means for strengthening resilience throughout their career.
Periodic advanced officer training throughout one’s career can reinforce the need to practice resilience and wellness in mind, body, emotions and spirit daily. Such training can provide information on trauma, its effects on the normal functioning of our brain, warning signs of being affected by acute stress and trauma, ways to incorporate families into the agency’s outreach and wellness resources, mindfulness training, meditation, maintaining work–life balance or any other information to enhance overall wellness.
Using officer evaluations is an opportunity for supervisors to engage their officers in resilience and wellness practices, and discuss the resources available. Agencies could also use the promotion testing and evaluation process to promote supervisors and managers who exemplify resilience and have a history of proactive positive engagement with their colleagues.
Other wellness program initiatives could include a wellness library and short testimonial videos of officers who have struggled because of the traumas of work and who have sought help and recovered. Periodic wellness newsletters, wellness apps that promote resilience, and family training days so loved ones can learn of agency resources and ways to best support their law enforcement partner are helpful.
Physical fitness programs and incentives are an important aspect of a wellness program, as well as encouraging — and possibly incentivizing — officers meeting with an EMDR trauma professional once per year as a form of psychological and emotional wellness maintenance and prevention.
Critical incident stress management debriefings for all officers/dispatchers following any incident that has the potential to adversely affect them over a long period of time, facilitated by a trauma professional and peer support/chaplains, as well as less formal defusings (officers/supervisor discussing the nature of a particular distressing call), assist in the recovery from trauma.
Encouraging officers to have positive involvement with the community they serve offers opportunities for them to counteract the distressing aspects of the profession. For example, at my agency, the La Mesa Police Department in California, we participated in the annual Shop With a Cop program, developed an annual youth leadership camp, provided food and presents to impoverished families for Christmas, established a foundation to sponsor poor children to play sports, adopted a middle school to engage with students, hosted citizen academies and had numerous other community engagement efforts.
It’s essential for officers to develop a sense of purpose throughout their police career beyond their own self-interest. An effective purpose fosters greater resilience — for instance, when officers are driven by their hearts to make a meaningful difference at their agency, with their colleagues and within the community; to be as helpful and useful as they can; to do as much good as they can daily; and to serve with compassion.
Providing the best supportive care as possible for our people by providing mechanisms of wellness and resilience offers the greatest chance for our officers to not only survive, but also thrive throughout their career. Our greatest responsibility to the agency, the community and each other is to take care of our people so they can do the most good and keep us all safe.