Calif. police department creates wellness team to help its officers thrive
It’s not just about eating right and exercise; the wellness team also focuses on the mind-body-soul connection
Reprinted with permission from Behind the Badge
By Cindy Arora
When Bakersfield Police Sergeant Verion Coleman joined the department’s Wellness Team in 2010, the team was comprised of five people who volunteered between their own full-time shifts at the police department.
Twelve years later, Coleman, now the department’s official Wellness Coordinator, has an office, a team and a refrigerator filled with Modern Grub (prepped meals) for officers and staff who want to stop by to pick up something healthy to eat.
It’s a dream come true for Coleman. His role as leader of the Bakersfield Police Department’s Wellness Team was made official on November 8, 2021.
This gives the Wellness Team a budget, an office, and a mission to follow: Keep staff happy, healthy and provide them with the tools they need to thrive.
“Before November, I was a patrol sergeant and God forbid somebody called me to tell me they didn’t feel alright,” Coleman said. “If I got a service call during this, I would have to tell them, ‘Sorry, but I have to go.’ Now, with the new team, I’m full-time, my door is open, and people can come into the office and share what they are going through.”
For years, Bakersfield Police Department has put an emphasis on the importance of wellness for its police officers. The department has an active fitness team that helps employees with nutrition and getting into shape. They host 5Ks, hold an annual Lift-a-Thon, along with its Cross-Fit-based event The Ultimate First Responder, which brings together Bakersfield police and fire for a day of competition.
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Focusing on officers' mental health
But it’s not just about eating right and exercising. The Wellness Team also focuses on the mind-body-soul connection.
“We see a big correlation between people’s physical health with their mental health,” said Sgt. Peter Beagley, who is part of the physical fitness component of the new Wellness Team. “Our goal is to offer everything we can think of to lower the stress and prolong the lives of our officers.”
The structure of the new team allows funds to be set aside for anything under the umbrella of wellness. The Wellness Team is made up of 29 peer support members, 22 officers overseeing physical fitness and 11 chaplains who offer spiritual support.
“We are trying to hit from all angles. We have a mental portion, physical fitness, nutrition, spiritual and peer support,” Beagley said. “There’s a stigma in law enforcement where no one wants to talk about wellness. We are trying to erase the stigma and get officers the help they need.”
A few years ago, a Bakersfield police officer died by suicide. It was a wakeup call for the entire department, according to Beagley. The need to establish the department as a safe space for its officers and to be able to provide resources became critical.
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“People are more apt to reach out to resources through the department than to go out on their own and try to find something. So, if we can offer these services to them, we will,” Beagly said. “Our goal is for our officers to know they have somewhere to go.”
Since Coleman’s position as Wellness Coordinator went full time, he has been touring treatment facilities, meeting with therapists, connecting with staff on leave, sending baskets to new parents and checking in on police officers who are home for an officer-related shooting or other traumatic experience.
“Anything we can do for our Bakersfield PD family physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally, we do it,” he said.
Well-rounded wellness for cops
Coleman has been able to host team building workshops for the Traffic Department, which spent an afternoon connecting at Brainy Acts Escape room where they decompressed and had fun together.
Coleman also partnered with a therapist who collaborates with the team so the officers can get to know her, should they want to talk.
Bakersfield PD also began to offer the wellness app Cordico, which is an on-demand one-stop-shop for wellness. The app includes videos, articles, self-assessments and guides created specifically for high-stress occupations.
As the new Wellness Unit finds its footing, they are looking ahead to projects big and small to help with establishing the department’s commitment to health and wellness.
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They’ve recently contracted with a yoga studio to come in twice a week to offer free classes to employees, using federal grant funding. Yoga helps with hips, knees and shoulders, but is also a resource for retirees who have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
The new Wellness Unit is also planning fundraisers to help raise $80,000 for a bigger on-site gym at the Bakersfield Police Academy.
“One of our big goals is to raise money toward building a bigger more complete gym facility,” said Beagley. “We want to be a one-stop training facility for the academy. But I also want to see my coworkers using the facilities. The more we can do on the front end, with fitness, mental health and trying to limit their stresses can go a long way to supporting their livelihood.”
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