Reinvisioning 21st Century Policing

March 5, 2015

Findings of Pillar 6: Officer Wellness and Safety

The President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing has just released its preliminary report , updated 4 March 2015, with the latest data on the state of policing with recommendations for improvements that might improve safety and efficiency. There’s much to be gleaned from this document. For example:

Police died from suicide 2.4 times as often as from homicides.

The following is the first half of the findings presented in Pillar 6 on officer wellness and safety. The First Responder Blog continues with the second half of Pillar 6. For the full report, visit the Department of Justice, task force page.

In conjunction with our initiatives to shine a spotlight on first responder suicides, depression, drug and alcohol problems, and PTSD, we are publishing this important Wellness section of the task force verbatim.

Officer Wellness & Safety Most law enforcement officers walk into risky situations and encounter tragedy on a regular basis. Some, such as the police who responded to the carnage of Sandy Hook Elementary School, witness horror that stays with them for the rest of their lives. Others are physically injured in carrying out their duties, sometimes needlessly, through mistakes made in high stress situations. The recent notable deaths of officers are stark reminders of the risk officers face. As a result, physical, mental, and emotional injuries plague many law enforcement agencies.

However, a large proportion of officer injuries and deaths are not the result of interaction with criminal offenders but the outcome of poor physical health due to poor nutrition, lack of exercise, sleep deprivation, and substance abuse. Yet these causes are often overlooked or given scant attention. Many other injuries and fatalities are the result of vehicular accidents.

The Impact of Police Wellness on All of Us

The wellness and safety of law enforcement officers is critical not only to themselves, their colleagues, and their agencies but also to public safety. An officer whose capabilities, judgment, and behavior are adversely affected by poor physical or psychological health may not only be of little use to the community he or she serves but also a danger to it and to other officers. As task force member Tracey Meares observed, “Hurt people can hurt people.”104

Commenting on the irony of law enforcement’s lack of services and practices to support wellness and safety, Dr. Laurence Miller observed in his testimony that supervisors would not allow an officer to go on patrol with a deficiently maintained vehicle, an un-serviced duty weapon, or a malfunctioning radio—but pay little attention to the maintenance of what is all officers’ most valuable resource: their brains.105

Officer suicide is also a problem: a national study using data of the National Occupational Mortality Surveillance found that police died from suicide 2.4 times as often as from homicides. And though depression resulting from traumatic experiences is often the cause, routine work and life stressors — serving hostile communities, working long shifts, lack of family or departmental support—are frequent motivators too.

In this pillar, the task force focused on many of the issues that impact and are impacted by officer wellness and safety, focusing on strategies in several areas: physical, mental, and emotional health; vehicular accidents; officer suicide; shootings and assaults; and the partnerships with social services, unions, and other organizations that can support solutions.


104 Listening Session on Officer Safety and Wellness (comment of Tracey Meares, task force member, for the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, Washington, DC, February 23, 2015).

105 Listening Session on Officer Safety and Wellness (oral testimony of Laurence Miller, psychologist, for the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, Washington, DC, February 23, 2015).

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