The big picture: There is more than one root stressor when you’re a law enforcement officer.
Serving on the frontline is among the heaviest and hardest parts of wearing the badge. However, the operational challenges that attract our focus, such as physical and traumatic incidents, aren’t the only stressors and threats to wellness that must be addressed.
- Former police officer turned professor Jon Shane authored Stress Inside Police Departments (2020), offering an examination of stress, contributing organizational factors, and their impact on performance.
- Using his prior research in two major city police departments, Shane points out that organizational factors such as poor communications and feedback, substandard facilities and equipment, insufficient resources and staff, perceived lack of control over work, lack of positive feedback, and poor relationships with coworkers and supervisors are all capable of creating stress and reducing performance in officers and staff.
- These issues are situated in a broader organizational context that includes capacity (staffing) and work schedules (shift length; steady/rotating shifts) that can create stress and performance problems but are within the agency’s control to modify.
- Shane’s suggestions for mitigating stress and improving performance include enhanced internal communications, cultivating feedback, policy, and managerial reforms, and addressing resource availability, including staffing.
What science says: We need to understand more about internal stressors and the effectiveness of wellness programs in addressing them.
In 2021, we launched a study designed to enhance officer health and wellness while promoting organizational effectiveness. Our goal? To better understand pathways between stressors, individual and organizational characteristics, and adverse outcomes within agencies. Early findings tell us stressful internal situations and incidents are impacting officers more than external ones because those situations aren’t covered in the academy.
Our research is far from over, and there is still room for two agencies to take part in our study. We are looking for one agency with at least 600 sworn law enforcement officers and one correctional facility with at least 600 sworn corrections officers.
As we continue our research, we are also keeping our finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the field. Many agencies are putting into place wellness programs to combat stress for officers and staff but unfortunately, as NPI’s Dr. Hannah McManus notes in this article, we don’t know much about their effectiveness. That is why NPI is encouraging conversations like this one. Agencies with cutting-edge, innovative wellness programs, like the agency you will read about below, should share their findings to better inform the profession.
We’re watching: Louisville Metro PD and its holistic approach to a healthier workforce.
LMPD is setting the stage for officer and staff wellness. During a recent conversation with LMPD’s Major Bryan Edelen, we learned about the agency’s 30,000-square-foot Summit Wellness Center, created to support local first responders and their families. The coolest part? LMPD didn’t do it alone; they did it with their community.
We’re listening: Former officer turned country music singer hopes fans come for the music and stay for the message.
Frank Ray spent 10 years as a New Mexico police officer, so he understands the realities of the profession and the critical need for more mental clarity before officers suit up and log on. We sat down with Frank to learn more about how he’s using his growing platform to make wellness a priority for first responders. Here is what he had to say.
What this all means: When it comes to wellness, we have to dig deeper.
NPI is all-in when it comes to ensuring that science, innovation, and leaders lead. We believe wellness is something that must be prioritized, and we must rely on science to make informed decisions about what progress looks like for our organizations, our agencies, and even our communities. We hope you will become part of the conversation with us here on LinkedIn and share what your agency or community is doing to address officer and staff wellness. In the meantime, here are a few resources you may find helpful:
- We can learn a lot from one another: The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health conducts Health Hazard Evaluations to help employers and employees identify hazards and prevent work-related illness. Evaluations are at no cost and published online.
- Funding Opportunities: The National Institute of Justice recently signaled its interest in research and evaluation on police wellness. Our team tracks these funding opportunities and thinks you might like to keep an eye on them as well.
- Make wellness visible: Created by the National Suicide Awareness for Law Enforcement Officer Program, this compilation of posters and videos can help supervisors roll out stress reduction campaigns.
- Wellness for families: Share this guide with your agency to promote healthy relationships between officers, work, and their home life. Included are resources for navigating stress in children, preparing for major and unplanned events, warning signs, and more.
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