Task Force on Policing Findings: Part 2

March 17, 2015

The President’s Task Force on 21 Century Policing reveals important findings about policing and mental health in an portion of the report called Pillar 6. For example, the rate of suicide deaths among police officers is alarming. The findings of this task force are important because they shed light on problems that are difficult to uncover and rarely discussed. In its First Responder Program, American Addiction Centers works with officers in overcoming issues that are often hazards of the job. The following is an excerpt from the full report, and is the 2nd half of Pillar 6 overview.

Physical Stress; Emotional Duress

Physical injuries and death in the line of duty, while declining, are still too high. According to estimates of U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 100,000 law enforcement professionals are injured in the line of duty each year. Many are the result of assaults, which underscores the need for body armor, but most are due to vehicular accidents.

To protect against assaults, Orange County (Florida) Sheriff Jerry Demings talked about immersing new officers in simulation training that realistically depicts what they are going to face in the real world. “I subscribe to an edict that there is no substitute for training and experience . . . deaths and injuries can be prevented through training that is both realistic and repetitive.”106

But to design effective training first requires collecting substantially more information about the nature of injuries sustained by officers on the job. Dr. Alexander Eastman’s testimony noted that the field of emergency medicine involves the analysis of vast amounts of data with regard to injuries in order to improve prevention as well as treatment.

In order to make the job of policing more safe, a nationwide repository for [law enforcement officer] injuries sustained is desperately needed. A robust database of this nature, analyzed by medical providers and scientists involved in law enforcement, would allow for recommendations in tactics, training, equipment, medical care and even policies/procedures that are grounded in that interface between scientific evidence, best medical practice and sound policing.107

Poor nutrition and fitness are also serious threats, as is sleep deprivation. Many errors in judgment can be traced to fatigue, which also makes it harder to connect with people and control emotions. But administrative changes such as reducing work shifts can improve officer’s feelings of well-being, and the implementation of mental health strategies can lessen the impact of the stress and trauma.

A Change in Culture

However, the most important factor to consider when discussing wellness and safety is the culture of law enforcement, which needs to be transformed. Support for wellness and safety should permeate all practices and be expressed through changes in procedures, requirements, attitudes, and behaviors. An agency work environment in which officers do not feel they are respected, supported, or treated fairly is one of the most common sources of stress. And research indicates that officers who feel respected by their supervisors are more likely to accept and voluntarily comply with departmental policies. This transformation should also overturn the tradition of silence on psychological problems, encouraging officers to seek help without concern about negative consequences. 106

106 Listening Session on Officer Safety and Wellness: Officer Safety (oral testimony of Jerry Demings, sheriff, Orange County, FL, for the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, Washington, DC, February 23, 2015).

107 Listening Session on Officer Safety and Wellness: Officer Safety (oral testimony of Dr. Alexander Eastman, lieutenant and deputy medical director, Dallas Police Department, for the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, Washington, DC, February 23, 2015).

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