App and Peer Group Built to Support Police Officer Health

Police officers and police department staff have long suffered emotionally from the horrors of the job and traditionally have kept to themselves, compounding the issue. So police departments are addressing the emotional trauma officers face to try to foster emotional health.

The Frederick, Md., Police Department is taking a more holistic approach to health with the underlying belief that resiliency is a cultural issue for everyone within the department — sworn and not sworn — and that resiliency not only means emotional health, but physical health as well.

That’s the ambition of the Resiliency and Wellness Group (RWG), a group of seven Frederick Police Department employees — half sworn, half professional staff — that works with a professional leadership coach to develop resiliency within the department.

The RGW has implemented a Peer Ambassador Program and is developing a corresponding app for all police personnel to use anonymously for resources that help them deal with things including emotional well-being, healthy eating and financial issues, as well as any other issue that may be getting in the way of an officer being a whole employee and person.

“The app will have resources related to mental health, physical fitness and also financial wellness,” said Chief Jason Lando. “We know a lot of officers come on the job and are young, this is their first real job, and the first thing they do is go out and spend a lot of money on a house or an expensive car that they can’t afford and get themselves in debt.

“So that’s an example of why we want to focus on taking a holistic approach to how we take care of our officers. One of the things is the financial piece. It’s something people forget about, but it adds to the stress.”

That holistic approach means including every employee in the program, whether a sworn officer or not, and making sure all are being taken care of in this manner. Lando said the department is trying to be very intentional about that.

“There is a divide in most police departments between the sworn officers and nonsworn or civilian,” he said. “A lot of times [the nonsworn] feel like the focus is always on the people who carry the badge and gun and not on those who are in a supporting role.”

The ambassador program began this summer with the leadership of Corp. Sara Leishear. “The app will provide resources instantaneously to the officer so they wouldn’t have to go through the chain of command,” Leishear said. “It’s literally a one-stop shop hub for our employees, whether it’s financial or resilience; it’s not just mental health.”

One of the key resources will be peer support, and that’s what the department is developing with the Peer Ambassador Program.

“We’re working on the Peer Ambassador Program where it’s not just going to be ‘Sara went on a hard call and needs to speak to a peer,’ but it could include help learning the city or figuring out what I need as far as equipment as a new officer,” Leishear said. “It could be anything, because a lot of times it’s easier for us to go to a peer than through the chain of command.”

Police officers are traditionally reluctant to ask for help, feeling that they are supposed to be providing help for others and need to just get through it. That’s why success of the program won’t be an overnight process.

“It’s largely built on trust: trust in the agency, trust in the leadership,” Lando said. “I can’t say tomorrow we’ll have this app now and everyone will say, ‘Okay, that’s great.’ It’s going to take a while of leadership by example, of officers having gone through bad stuff and seeing along the way that they were supported, that we weren’t trying to put sanctions on them, but they felt supported the entire time, and then it becomes the culture of the agency.”

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