The need to fully understand officers’ perspectives and struggles is more pressing than ever in today’s constantly changing law enforcement climate.
Police1’s annual State of the Industry surveys provide an unprecedented window into the minds of those who protect and serve. However, the survey results can be complex and difficult to sift through. That’s why we’re committed to bringing you one deep dive article per month that will dissect and analyze one question from our annual surveys.
This month’s deep dive question is: If you could recommend to your chief one thing to improve officer safety and wellness at your agency, what would that be?
This question was part of Police1’s second annual “What Cops Want” survey, in which we delved into issues of morale, job satisfaction and leadership dynamics within law enforcement, garnering responses from 2,376 officers.
Not surprisingly, the findings reveal a resounding call for improved mental health resources and stronger support systems from police supervisors. These responses prove that despite ongoing efforts to destigmatize mental health care in law enforcement, this remains a significantly under-addressed area.
Below, we’ll explore why many respondents are advocating for this change and how it reflects the current state of mental health support in law enforcement. The insights gathered shed light on the silent battles officers face and underscore the need for a paradigm shift in how law enforcement supervisors address mental health and wellness among their ranks.
What officers are saying about making mental health a priority:
- “We need annual mental health evaluations. The first time a police officer meets with a mental health professional should not be the mandated visit after a critical incident.”
- “Let’s adopt a more obvious commitment to wellness and mental health issues – and communicate that frequently. We need to make it not taboo to discuss post-traumatic stress, have access to mental health counselors, nutrition counselors and incentives to work out.”
- “Can we start offering more mental health days? That makes officer morale/mental health a top-tier priority, specifically by creating a greater opportunity for officers to attend a trauma recovery/resiliency course.”
- “Implement a mental health evaluation program (at minimum – day 1 then 5, 10, 15, 20 years down the road) for officers to simply talk about the impacts of the job on both a personal and professional level.”
- “Bring in a psychologist who has an intimate understanding of emergency responders and integrate them into regular trainings and meetings with officers so that they are normalized in our culture.”
- “Don’t pay mental health lip service. You can’t encourage officers to come forward and then persecute or overreact to them when they do.”
- “More face-to-face interaction between line agents and management. Our agents often work solo or only in pairs and don’t have regular contact other than electronically. Regular interactions can help mental health and discover issues one may be having.”
Based on the responses from the officers who participated in the survey, here are five action items for police supervisors to ensure they prioritize and effectively address officers’ mental wellbeing.
1. Implement regular mental health training and resources: Officers want their police chief or supervisor to establish a mental health program with psychologists who are familiar with the issues facing law enforcement officers. They want mandatory annual mental health evaluations – not just after critical incidents – to normalize discussing mental health and reducing the stigma attached to it.
2. Develop and support peer support programs: Countless feedback pointed at actively promoting and implementing peer support teams, ensuring they’re well-staffed and trained. Most importantly, officers want to ensure confidentiality is maintained so the use of these teams can become a core part of their department’s culture.
3. Create a culture of openness and non-penalization for mental health issues: According to survey respondents, officers feel like they cannot currently seek help without fear of repercussion. As a result, they want their supervisor to change their approach to mental health from punitive to supportive. Further, many supported the idea of supervisors leading by example, showing openness about their mental health challenges to create a culture of helping – not hurting.
4. Offer comprehensive mental health services: There is no one-size-fits-all approach to mental health care. The officers who responded to the survey agreed that they would prefer access to a variety of mental health services, including counseling, stress management and resiliency classes, individual and group therapy, crisis intervention and routine mental wellness check-ins.
5. Promote and encourage wellness activities: Officers voiced their opinions on participating in wellness activities during duty hours, such as meditation, physical exercise or team debriefing sessions. To accomplish this, they recommended their supervisors develop a comprehensive wellness program that includes physical, mental and emotional health components. The most important part? Having supervisors who not only encourage officers to participate but actively join in.
By following these recommendations, police departments not only enhance the wellbeing of their officers, but also contribute to building safer, healthier and more trusting communities. Here are three ways these action items can lead to a more positive impact and influence on the communities that officers serve and protect:
1. Enhanced decision-making, reduced stress levels and more empathetic approach to community interactions: Officers who are mentally well are better equipped to handle the complexities and challenges of policing with patience, understanding and professionalism.
2. Increased trust and community relations: If officers are supported by their departments and are healthier – both in mind and body – then it fosters trust within their community as members are more likely to respect and cooperate with a mentally sound officer. This can lead to more effective community policing and collaboration.
3. Increased recruitment and retention: Agencies that prioritize officers’ mental wellbeing are more likely to experience higher rates of officer retention, as well as become more attractive to potential recruits.
The bottom line
Police chiefs and supervisors should pay close attention to the insights revealed, as they underscore the critical role of leadership in impacting officer wellness.
The survey highlighted a concerning trend: 60% of respondents identified poor agency leadership from their first-line supervisors, chiefs and sheriffs as the least satisfying aspect of their law enforcement career. Furthermore, the survey emphasizes the need to implement strategies that prioritize officer health and safety, which are vital for maintaining a resilient and effective police force.
The survey’s results should be a starting point for open discussions between officers and their supervisors. It’s a call to action for chiefs and supervisors to listen, understand and act on the feedback provided by their officers, which will reinforce trust and morale for years to come.