How to fund officer wellness programs

There are a variety of options at the federal, state and local level


For additional resources on officer wellness, download Smash the stigma: Building a culture that supports officer wellness

By John Hough

Historically, police officers and their supervisors and commanders did not openly discuss the stress associated with the job. Officers were routinely left to deal with their stress on their own, with little if any assistance provided by their organizations.

Thankfully, times have changed.

The stress associated with policing and the negative impacts on the mental health and wellness of officers are now routinely acknowledged as undeniable, but not inevitable if addressed appropriately. Given the demands and challenges inherent in policing, it is impossible to eliminate the stress that officers must confront. But there is now a far greater emphasis on addressing the mental health and wellness of officers and providing officers with pro-active resources to at least mitigate if not eliminate stress in policing.

While there is a growing focus on the mental health and wellness of police officers, there is clear current evidence of the toll stress is continuing to take on Police Officers. According to a “New York Post” article, as of August 6, 2022, 2,465 officers have left the New York City Police Department in 2022 by resigning or retiring, which is a 42% increase in officers leaving for the same reasons during the same period in 2021. The number of officers voluntarily forfeiting their full retirement pension benefits that are accrued after 20 years of service by leaving before they reach that 20-year plateau is up 71% over the same period in 2021. That statistic is particularly significant because it represents a major long-term financial impact for an officer to consider before resigning or retiring. Myriad issues contribute to an officer’s decision to preemptively resign or retire, but stress is a common denominator that cannot be ignored.

Effectively addressing the stress in policing and its impact on the mental health and wellness of police officers is not just beneficial for the officer. The community and community members benefit from police officers acknowledging, addressing, and managing their mental health and wellness issues. A police officer who is better able and empowered to manage his or her mental health and wellness by effectively dealing with stress will likely make more appropriate and better decisions and be more productive, results that ultimately impact the community and community members.

Many resources are available to police officers and police organizations to address officer mental health and wellness, from local, in-house assistance to volunteer organizations and grant-funded organizations. An organizational Employee Assistance Program and/or a peer support program can be highly effective at an immediate local level with little or no cost to an organization or the police officer.

The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) has a wealth of information on the issue of officer safety and wellness on its website.

In the arena of grants, many opportunities exist at the state and federal levels that focus on officer mental health, safety and wellness.

STATE-LEVEL GRANTS

Some grants at the state level are administered at the state criminal justice agency level and may have specific restrictions or requirements that need to be addressed in a grant submission. Below are several examples of state-level grant opportunities that include a focus on officer safety, mental health and wellness:

The deadline for the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) First Responder Wellness, Recruitment, Retention & Resiliency grant for Ohio has already expired; however, the estimated deadline for a possible 2023 grant cycle based upon the current grant deadline is June 17, 2023. This is just an example of one state’s ARPA grant process focusing on wellness. To obtain specific information on the possible availability of ARPA grant funds, contact the local, county, or state agency tasked with administering and distributing the funds to determine if any funds are still available or if all the funds have already been allocated or encumbered.

The State of Colorado Division of Criminal Justice administers the Law Enforcement Assistance Grant Program (LEAGP) with a rolling deadline.

The California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) administers the California Innovations Grant Program with one of the five (5) program areas addressing “Wellness Programs for Law Enforcement Officers.” The estimated deadline for the current grant cycle is November 1, 2022.

FEDERAL-LEVEL GRANTS

Below are some examples of federal-level grant opportunities that include a focus on officer safety, mental health and wellness:

1. BJA Justice Assistance Grants

These federal grants are offered annually through either your state administering agency or directly to certain eligible local governments. This year, officer safety and wellness are part of the focus areas BJA is encouraging applicants to target. BJA sees a vital need to focus not only on tactical officer safety concerns, but also on health and wellness as they affect officer performance and safety.

2. VALOR – BJA

The mission of the Officer Robert Wilson III Preventing Violence Against Law Enforcement Officers and Ensuring Officer Resilience and Survivability (VALOR) Initiative is to provide education and tools to prevent violence against police officer and enhance their safety, wellness and resilience.

3. COPS

The COPS Hiring Program (CHP) deadline for grant submissions for the current grant cycle has already expired; however, the estimated deadline for the 2023 CHP grant cycle based upon the current grant deadline is June 13, 2023. The CHP is administered through the Office of Community Oriented Policing Service (COPS) in the U.S. Department of Justice.

4. DOJ LEMHWA

The estimated deadline for the next cycle of the U.S. Department of Justice Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Act (LEMHWA) Training and Technical Assistance grant submissions and the LEMHWA Implementation Projects is April 27, 2023, based upon the current grant cycle deadline.

CORPORATE AND PRIVATE FOUNDATIONS

Many corporate and private foundations offer grants to assist with officer mental health and wellness.

1. Health organization foundations

The Robert Wood Johnson (Johnson & Johnson Corp. founder) Foundation annually offers its Pioneering Ideas program grants that look for cutting-edge ideas from other fields to health or taking an existing idea and give it a new spin.

2. Local foundations

An example of a locally based foundation includes the Greg Lindmark Foundation. This foundation is geographically focused in Northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin with the goal to reduce the impact of cumulative stress and trauma on first responders by providing awareness, education and confidential counseling. Annual fundraising events support these programs to local officers.

3. Community foundations

Community foundations across the country support law enforcement health and wellness initiatives. Examples include:

  • Community Foundation of Texas: Backing the Blue is a $15 million grant to the Dallas Police Department to fund critical equipment needs, study best police practices and prepare leaders in the Dallas PD to become better educated, better trained officers who effectively protect and serve the citizens of that city.
  • Great Falls Police Community Foundation: The funding is dedicated to help this Montana community keep pace with rapidly evolving technology, strategies and training. Videos created with the funding highlight the risks and challenges the officers face daily.
  • Code3 Foundation: This foundation, which is focused on the Metro Washington D.C. area, has supported numerous projects to educate, equip and empower police with tools and resources while also creating conditions for officers and community members to work together. Among its many awarded grants includes one to Prince William County PD to establish a wellness and resiliency unit.  

Consider these funding options or encourage your community leaders to fund peer mentoring or other mental health and wellness programs for officers affected by the dangerous and often stressful job of keeping our communities safe every day. 

VOLUNTEER ORGANIZATIONS

Finally, there are volunteer organizations that focus on officer mental health, safety and wellness. An example of such is The Wounded Blue organization, founded by a retired LEO and staffed by volunteers who are current or retired police officers who have been either wounded or injured during their service. After attending a two-week training program, which includes critical incident stress management, the volunteers provide free peer-to-peer counseling throughout the nation to any first responder and the first responder’s family including children. The organization also provides referrals to professional counselors with specific expertise in law enforcement issues. The volunteers focus on stress-related issues and suicide prevention.

The stress in policing will never go away. But with the right understanding, assistance and resources, police officers can be empowered to better manage that stress to help protect their personal wellness.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

To stay current on the ongoing work of the COPS Office National Officer Safety and Wellness Group, access https://cops.usdoj.gov/oswg.

The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) offers resource to learn more about the connection between stress and health & safety and how critical it is to act on these recommendations, access

The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) features blogs on officer stress and health and officer safety.


About the author

John Hough holds an Executive Master of Public Administration. He began his career in 1973 with the Los Angeles Police Department. Immediately after graduating from the academy, he was assigned to undercover narcotics. From undercover narcotics, he moved to patrol in the South Los Angeles area, beginning a long career in California, Colorado and Texas in a wide range of assignments in a broad spectrum of socio-economic, demographic and geographic environments. During his career he served in two small cities in the Denver metro area and worked as a patrol officer; Field Training Officer; Field Training and Evaluation Program Sergeant; Patrol Sergeant; Special Enforcement Unit Sergeant; Adjutant to the Chief of Police in Inglewood; and, in California as a Sergeant; Police Lieutenant; Police Commander; and, Chief of Police in Soledad, CA. Finally, John was appointed as a Federal Defense Investigator by the US District Court for Colorado during the Terry Nichols OKC bombing trial.

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