6 ways a peer support team has an officer’s back
Like any special ops team, a law enforcement peer support team has a mission to fulfill
Strong peer support presence in a department shows personnel they have a team behind them that is on their side and available to help when needed.
With ongoing exposure to trauma, negativity and public criticism, peer support teams have become even more critical for officers as the front-line resource that truly “gets” what officers experience on a daily basis.
What does a peer support team do?
Different departments will have different needs, based on type and number of incidents, size and location of the department, and the availability of other resources. Across the country, though, there is a list of roles that are common among many good peer support teams, and the variety of activities may be surprising.
Here are some of the responsibilities and roles of a peer support team:
- Critical incident debriefing: Peer support teams should be trained on debriefing procedures in order to help personnel after experiencing a critical incident. A variety of debriefing processes are available, but conducting a timely and thorough debriefing is key to helping personnel deal with post-incident responses and access resources that will help them heal and be better equipped to move forward.
- Personnel family needs: If there is a personnel on-the-job injury, the peer support team can help alleviate as much of the burden on the spouse and family as possible. This may mean going to the hospital and helping screen visitors, sitting with family and friends, or providing security. It can also mean helping a spouse with household needs such as shopping or gardening or helping get an officer’s children to/from school or activities. The peer support team may coordinate department personnel (on or off the peer support team) to deliver meals, help transport the family, or raise money for family needs. They can offer similar support if an officer’s family has some type of difficulty such as a critically ill spouse.
- Death notification and/or funeral planning: If a coworker dies in the line of duty, the peer support team will often go with, or even in place of, command staff to the home as quickly as possible to inform the family. A well-trained peer support teammate can help manage family emotions and reactions, while also beginning to coordinate needs during this time.
- Peer support teammates act as a listening ear: When a coworker experiences any type of challenge, it is helpful to talk to someone who understands, and it is often a peer who may understand best. Personnel who have a team available to call and just say, “Hey, can I talk to you for a few minutes?” will feel supported and know someone has their back. Personnel will be more trusting and open to using outside resources when needed if a trusted peer refers them.
- Extra support during critical incidents: Peer support team members can be both the coordinators and hands-on help during critical incidents by doing things like showing up with bottled water and food for those working long hours and extra shifts. The team can also coordinate outside resources that show up to help, like mental health professionals and other department peer support teams.
- Knowing personnel: The peer support team can be very effective by knowing their personnel, watching for and seeing changes in behavior, keeping confidentiality and doing regular check-ins. By knowing what’s going on with personnel on a regular and ongoing basis, the peer support team will more quickly be able to recognize when a coworker is in distress or in need of resources and support.
How a peer support team can be effective
Each and every person on the team must be well trained and respected by personnel. Even one teammate who isn’t trusted by their coworkers can create a mistrust of the entire team. Continuous training on everything that may be required of a peer support team will make the difference between a team that merely exists and a team that is effective.
The Certified Peer Support Leader and Certified Peer Support Teammate training programs from Academy Hour are designed to teach a peer support team the foundational elements needed to provide the best support possible. Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) provides debriefing training that is used by many peer support teams, as well.
A peer support team, just as with any special ops team, must be ready for anything. Flexibility, extensive training and a connection to the right resources will prepare the teammates for the many roles they may fulfill. Being trusted by peers is the most important element of a good peer support team and is a responsibility not to be taken lightly. There are many needs, duties and opportunities to provide support. Is your department ready and able to fulfill this essential mission?