Innovation in policing is often discussed in the context of new technologies and tools to address crime and safety. While those aspects are extremely important, so are internal innovations that keep officers and staff safe. After all, we know those who serve are facing more high-intensity situations than ever before. Their wellness is critical, and so is the need to talk about it.
In 2020, like many other law enforcement agencies, the Louisville Metropolitan Police Department (LMPD) found itself amid turmoil and unrest. They were responding to protests following the murder of George Floyd while still battling tensions from the shooting death of Breonna Taylor a few months prior.
The climate during that time took a toll on everyone in Louisville, particularly officers and professional staff. Attrition reached a critical point after the department’s sworn officers decreased by 26%, from approximately 1,330 to just under 1,000 members. This was on top of exhaustion, stress, fatigue, and damaged morale. Recruiting slowed, and community support seemed more like rhetoric than reality.
Despite the tensions, both LMPD and the community knew something needed to be done to ensure the agency could rebound and thrive. That is when LMPD started exploring ways to innovate, engage the community and businesses, and enhance wellness, all to meet the ultimate goal of improving policing and service to residents.
Through extensive research of policing and private sector approaches to wellness, the vision of The Summit Wellness Center was born. Members of LMPD, The Louisville Metro Police Foundation, Impetus for a Better Louisville, a group of local business leaders and philanthropists, and local government officials teamed up to create a transformative, first-of-its-kind wellness center that would benefit all local first responders and their families.
In October 2023, the 3-story, 30,000-square-foot Summit Wellness Center opened – the result of a collective effort from the agency, city, and community to improve wellness among officers, staff, their families, and LMPD retirees. The center was a massive step toward improving mental health among the region’s first responders.
The National Policing Institute’s (NPI) President, Jim Burch, spoke with LMPD’s Major Bryan Edelen about police wellness, the new center, and the future.
While traditional efforts around wellness tend to be focused on physical exercise and mental health, Major Edelen describes three more considerations when it comes to achieving a healthy mind and body.
“With five pillars of wellness identified – physical, mental, spiritual, social, and financial – the business community and even some of those who once stood eye to eye with LMPD officers during the protests came together to go from vision to reality,” Edelen said.
The center embodies all five pillars. For physical wellness, the center offers the total package: a gym, physical therapists, and a strength and conditioning coach. Healthy drink and food options are onsite and available 24/7. Officers working the night shift are no longer left with fast food as their only option.
The center’s mental health resources are just as impressive, with a private organization providing services onsite, on-call, and through an agency smartphone application. Three officers are in the facility full-time, along with a crisis response resource that is ready to respond when needed. Additionally, the center includes meditation areas, and on the horizon are services for substance abuse. LMPD’s full-time Health and Safety Officer is also onsite, providing specialized TacMed training throughout the department.
In the area of spiritual wellness, LMPD has hired a full-time Chaplain, and the focus is to reconnect officers and staff with their purpose and the LMPD mission. They focus on service and integrity – two words that have been a part of the agency’s seal for many years and reflect the agency’s culture.
Edelen elaborated on the concept, which Burch noted was unique and important. “We believe reconnecting them (officers) with the “why” they joined and “why” they went into a career of service is essential. Related to this, when you walk into our facility, you’ll see a wall dedicated to all the people and businesses in the community who contributed to making this place possible. We think it is important to remind officers and staff that their community supports them, and the community needs their support.”
The center’s social wellness programs build connections among co-workers and their families. LMPD has grown tremendously over the years, making it difficult to know fellow officers who work across different divisions and shifts. LMPD leadership believes providing a place for social interactions among agency members is vital to boosting overall wellness.
Finally, the center promotes financial wellness by providing classes and seminars on retirement planning, budgeting, college planning, and home ownership. The agency has two different retirement plans and a specialist to help personnel navigate each plan and their differences.
The agency’s command staff is leading by example, with several members of leadership participating in services alongside LMPD personnel. Even the Chief takes advantage of the center’s vast array of resources.
Although the center just opened in October, LMPD is already seeing positive results.
“It’s hard to say what is attributed to the changes we’re making, but we are seeing very positive signs right now across the department. Our recruitment numbers are up, our retention appears to be easing, and we’re getting solid feedback from the community,” commented Edelen. “As I mentioned, even some of those involved in the 2020 protests have come forward to support what we are doing here. It makes such a difference for all of us to know that, yes, we have work to do, but we do have support from those in the community and all around us.”
LMPD continues to request feedback from officers, staff, and the community. Surveys help determine what services are needed and how the agency can adjust for the future.
“LMPD’s collaboration with the community and innovation mindset has allowed them to develop something unique and worthy of sharing with others throughout the law enforcement profession,” added Burch. “Thinking differently and deeply about wellness is critical to ensuring effective public safety and community satisfaction. We congratulate LMPD on their efforts and look forward to seeing their continued accomplishments.”