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Much like the year that preceded it, 2021 saw a continuation of the sweeping changes to law enforcement tactics, procedures, and reporting brought about by state-level reform legislation. In the absence of legislation at the federal level, state legislatures continued to pursue changes to use of force policies, more rigorous certification reporting standards, and newly established duty to report requirements. Though states have taken varied approaches to reform and modernizing their law enforcement agencies, the legislations’ goals and themes are broadly consistent – to increase the effectiveness and consistency of law enforcement by improving community trust and making strides towards greater transparency.  With that in mind, we look back on another busy year in law enforcement legislation.

2021 By the Numbers

2021inreviewOf some 2,670 bills introduced into state legislatures across the country, 366 were enacted into law. Most, but not all, of these pieces of legislation are a part of broad reform efforts that began in 2020 in the wake of several high-profile incidents involving law enforcement.

Forty-three pieces of legislation covered certification and decertification of officers. Though many of these bills were relatively routine updates to certification standards, there was a notable trend in reform-oriented bills designed to increase transparency in hiring and certification. Legislation like Colorado’s HB21-1250 aims to close perceived loopholes in reporting complaints against an officer. Many of these new laws call for increased information and data sharing among agencies and POST organizations.

Law enforcement training was addressed in 59 bills, with many of the pieces of legislation requiring (and funding) enhanced training for officers. Mental health awareness was a noteworthy aspect of many of these new training requirements, with seven states mandating training designed to help law enforcement officers recognize and respond to individuals experiencing mental health crises.

It is well understood policing can be a challenging profession even in the best of times.  The health and wellness of law enforcement officers have been a vital concern of policymakers across the country, undoubtedly owing to the increased demands on agencies and officers. A total of 24 states enacted 47 bills that provide funding for comprehensive programs addressing trauma and PTSD that affect first responders by providing crisis counseling and trauma-informed mental health services to agencies.

In 2021, 30 bills enacted into law tackled data, data security, and oversight. A common theme was standardizing the data collected and reported by state POST organizations regarding officer certification and training. New laws like Oregon’s HB 2932 called for creating databases to capture information on use of force incidents for public review and participation in the National Use-of-Force Collection initiative led by the FBI.

Narrowing our focus, we’ll take a closer look at three themes commonly seen in state-level reform legislation. Though the following list is not exhaustive, it represents some of the most notable new legislation of 2021.

Use of Force

Incidents related to policing and use of force in 2020 were a significant driver of reform-oriented legislation carrying into 2021. Before this, a patchwork of often ill-defined laws and local restrictions governed use of force. After substantial public debate and commentary, several states passed sweeping legislation clarifying use of force policy and creating new guidelines on when force can be applied, what kind of force is used, and how it is reported.

The state of Delaware approved significant changes to use of force policies that were previously loosely defined. In 2021 the state established a “reasonableness” standard for instances involving use of force involving law enforcement. Going a step further, many states addressed the specific issue of chokeholds in 2021 law enforcement legislation. Indiana, for example, restricted the use of holds that place pressure on the neck and now defines them as a form of deadly force with the passage of HB 1006. In contrast, the California legislature passed AB 490, which forbids the use of “carotid restraint” with no exceptions for deadly force.  In addition to California, eight other states have banned chokeholds entirely, limiting their use to incidents where deadly force would otherwise be justified.

Centralized Reporting

To confront so-called “wandering officers” who leave a department due to misconduct allegations only to seek employment at other agencies, many state legislatures have addressed the need to create more robust systems to track officer certification at the state level. By monitoring and reporting issues with officer certification, the hope is that officers showing patterns of misconduct complaints will be prevented from resuming employment at another agency. Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Utah, and Washington, among others, set up new requirements concerning reporting officer resignations, terminations, or misconduct.

A National Decertification Index is maintained by the International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training (IADLEST). While the database does not preclude anyone from employment as a law enforcement officer, it serves as a national registry for certification revocations that come about as the result of officer misconduct. In 2021, Indiana and Washington joined Massachusetts in reporting to this voluntary database.

Duty to intervene

To further reduce the use of unnecessary force, four states created varying regulations requiring fellow officers to intervene in incidents involving excessive force or official misconduct. In addition to curbing the use of excessive force, these policies aim to strengthen community trust in law enforcement through increased transparency, improve officer safety by ensuring proper procedures are being followed, and diminish the effect of a “code of silence” that permits unlawful or unethical behavior to persist.

Of these four states creating a duty to intervene, three have also enacted an obligation to report misconduct or excessive force to superiors. While there is some variation in the definitions of excessive, prohibited, unreasonable, and unauthorized force, the underlying motivation in preventing unwarranted force incidents remains the same. Five of these states’ new laws do not mandate any specific sanctions for a failure to report, while several others call for discretionary action, usually through Internal Affairs or other agency-specific procedures. For example, Washington created one of the more comprehensive duty-to-intervene laws requiring that officers found to violate these policies face mandatory decertification. In California, a new law creates specific protections for officers that report potential misconduct related to use of force.

Later this month, we’ll be looking forward, exploring how these trends will continue to evolve in 2022.

References:
https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/research-reports/state-policing-reforms-george-floyds-murder
https://www.ncsl.org/research/civil-and-criminal-justice/legislative-responses-for-policing.aspx

 

 

Over the last fifty years, the understanding of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has undergone a radical transformation. What was once thought of as fatigue, nervousness, or even cowardice in the face of danger is now understood to be a multi-dimensional set of interlocking symptoms that can persist for years after exposure to trauma. This growing understanding of the disorder and increased awareness of its symptoms and effects have created greater urgency among law enforcement agencies to confront PTSD with support and treatment.

This growing awareness is shown in initiatives like the recent passing of SB57 in Missouri. The bill recognizes the impact of PTSD on law enforcement officers and creates funding and programmatic support for routine check-ins with mental health professionals every three to five years. It also provides crisis support for officers and departments after critical events.

PTSDThis is just one example. Across the country, law enforcement leaders and policymakers are ramping up efforts to confront PTSD in the law enforcement community. What follows is a look at some of the impediments to effective treatment and the methods departmental leaders have developed to break down those barriers.

Overcoming barriers

Though police culture is not monolithic, there are common elements expressed throughout the profession – especially the notion that officers act as protectors for the rest of society. This notion can engender a cultural belief among officers that they “need to be stronger and braver than ordinary civilians” to fulfill their mission of service. Moreover, many in the profession see law enforcement as a kind of family unit subject to the highest levels of trust. In the most intense situations, a fellow officer may be the difference between survival and a far-worse outcome while on duty. While this is useful in maintaining unit and agency cohesion, it can also lead to an “us versus them” mentality when dealing with outsiders.

Staff psychologists and mental health professionals are frequently seen as outsiders within a department. In many agencies, they work on a part-time basis or are contracted from an outsider provider. Furthermore, the relationship between officers and mental health professionals can often begin as a negative experience. In most cases, a recruit’s first encounter with mental health staff is in a pre-employment psychological evaluation which can be thought of as a potential impediment to the recruit’s career goals (disqualifying them from service). After the academy, subsequent encounters with mental health staff often come from a referral from a supervisor or Internal Affairs (IA), contributing to the feeling that the interactions are punitive and a “blocker” in an officer’s career path.

PTSD Treatment That Works

Organizational and cultural changes are beginning to break down some of these barriers, and, with increased awareness, many officers now voluntarily seek help for PTSD symptoms. Evidence-based treatment options (EBT) are, by definition, the most effective means of confronting PTSD. Researchers and mental health professionals have studied these methods showing demonstrated and, importantly, repeatable patterns of efficacy in proactively addressing PTSD and offering viable treatment options that serve the unique needs of law enforcement officers. The American Psychological Association strongly recommends four specific PTSD treatments:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT examines relationships between thoughts, feelings, and behavior. For instance, by exploring one’s patterns of thoughts and better understanding them, a patient can see improvements in emotions and behaviors.

Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT)

This therapy seeks to help a person challenge and modify unhelpful beliefs about the trauma they experienced. By creating a new understanding of the trauma itself, CPT can reduce its ongoing negative impact.

Cognitive Therapy

An offshoot of CBT, this treatment involves “modifying the pessimistic evaluations and memories of trauma, with the goal of interrupting the disturbing behavioral and/or thought patterns that have been interfering in the person’s daily life.”

Prolonged Exposure

A person incrementally approaches the memories, feelings, and stimuli associated with their trauma using this therapy. By retelling their experience with guidance in a supportive environment, the patient confronts the fear and anxiety associated with the experience.

These techniques represent recommended PTSD treatment for the broadest segment of the population. Research suggests that law enforcement officers have needs that can be different from that of the general public. Recognizing that, departmental leaders can enhance their efforts at combatting PTSD with the following strategies:

Peer-support

When discussing what is shown to address mental health and wellness among officers, the conversation often turns to the necessity of peer-support networks. No one “gets” the stress of policing like fellow officers. This inherent rapport can break down some barriers to seeking help for a mental health challenge like PTSD. These were typically informal networks of more senior officers providing advice and guidance to their more junior colleagues in the past. In many departments, these networks have become more formalized and are being incorporated into the mental health programming offered by departments.

Becoming an insider

Mental health professionals are not powerless when countering the “outsider” narrative that can hinder their work. They can and often do attend police social functions, making themselves part of the fabric of the department’s community. Ride-alongs have also shown results in increasing rapport and trust between mental health providers. The Bend, OR Police Department’s mental health staff has participated in ride-alongs since 2015, and the NYPD has an established program for embedding members of the public with officers, to name just a few.

Changing the Narrative

A police officer’s work increases their likelihood of experiencing traumatic events that can lead to PTSD. Though the disorder is not inherently different in law enforcement officers compared to the general population, their profession and culture create unique needs. By better understanding those needs and how they may be addressed, law enforcement leaders and policymakers can potentially change the narrative of how PTSD is confronted and treated within the law enforcement community.

The public debate around policing has only increased in volume in recent years, with opposing sides struggling to see eye to eye on many of these issues. Funding, mission, purpose, and other concerns, both practical and ethical, are in play. One distinct point of agreement between opposing sides is that the profession involves inherent dangers not seen in most other job categories. These dangers are often traumatic and, by definition, put police officers at a higher risk for developing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

PTSD in PoliceThe understanding of PTSD has advanced rapidly in the last 100 years, primarily through the study of law enforcement officers, first responders, and military personnel. What once was thought of as a character deficiency is now understood as a complex set of intersecting psychological conditions brought on by abrupt or repeated exposure to trauma. As a part of a series on this blog, this post looks at how this understanding has evolved and how PTSD specifically affects police officers.

Historical Perspective

Though PTSD can result from any sort of traumatic event, understanding it as a psychological condition is historically associated with war. From biblical references to mentions by Shakespeare, the potentially debilitating trauma has long been well known if not always well-understood. Though there was discussion of “combat hysteria” or “battle hypnosis” in medical texts beginning in the 19th century, it was the first World War that led to the first recognition of what we now know as PTSD symptoms. Shell shock was a term used to describe a debilitating condition distinct from combat fright or “malingering”.

As the 20th century moved forward, there was progress in understanding the effects of acute or traumatic stress related to military or combat experience. However, they were often framed as moral or psychological failings when discussed outside of clinical settings, suggesting a fundamental weakness in those experiencing such symptoms. These notions contributed to the stigma of seeking help for PTSD that persists.

The United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War led to significant advancements in understanding trauma stress. As many as 700,000 returning war-zone veterans, nearly 25% of all who served, required some kind of psychological help after their service. With such a large population to work with and study, the understanding of PTSD broadened considerably during this period. In 1980, the condition was formally termed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), a publication of the American Psychiatric Association considered to be the benchmark in classifying mental health disorders.

A Formalized Definition

PTSD was added as a diagnostic category with the publication of DSM-III and has remained a part of the guide through the fifth and most current edition. It was included in this edition as part of a new category of “trauma and stressor-related disorders.” To be diagnosed with PTSD, doctors follow a set of guidelines to rule out other psychological conditions. To be diagnosed with PTSD, a person must meet the following criteria:

  • Exposure to trauma, whether direct or indirect.
  • Intrusion symptoms in which the traumatic event is persistently re-experienced. Flashbacks and nightmares are examples.
  • A pattern of avoidance related to external reminders or thoughts and feelings.
  • Negative alterations of cognition and mood such as being unable to recall details of the trauma, feelings of isolation, and decreased interest in once enjoyable activities.
  • Alterations in arousal or activity. These include nut are not limited to a heightened startle reaction, aggression, hypervigilance, and difficulty concentrating or sleeping.

These symptoms must last more than one month, create distress or functional impairment, and are not caused by medication, substance abuse, or another illness.

How PTSD Effects Police

Police work can be an intense profession with officers called to respond to situations potentially involving violence, abuse of children, and other traumatic occurrences. Additionally, however remote, there is always a chance that an officer will be required to use less or less-than-lethal force on a call. Research suggests that police officers can experience as many as three traumatic events every six months, compared to the broader population in which someone may experience only a few of these events over an entire lifetime.

This exposure to trauma predictably leads to higher instances of PTSD among law enforcement officers. Mental health professionals estimate that as many as 15% of police officers experience PTSD symptoms. This is more than double the rate at which the general population experiences them. In large part, due to stigma and negative stereotypes associated with the condition, it may be impossible to determine the actual population size of officers living with PTSD.

The long-term effects of untreated PTSD are not fundamentally different in police officers compared to that of the general public. Sleep quality is often affected, conditions related to anxiety and depression occur at a higher frequency, and there is generally a higher rate of drug and alcohol abuse among those experiencing the disorder. In some instances, there can also be effects on decision-making ability, especially under stressful circumstances.

There is research suggesting that PTSD affects the ability of police officers and other first responders to assess risk in stressful situations. This is especially critical in calls potentially involving the use of deadly force, in which officers must make split-second decisions informed by the perception of risk. A new study incorporates sophisticated EEG sensors to measure brain activity in officers during simulated police work. While the results are preliminary, they show “disruptions in rapid decision making by an officer who has PTSD may affect brain systems due to heightened arousal to threats, inability to screen out interfering information, or the inability to keep attention.” In potentially life-or-death situations, the implications of these impacts are evident.

Looking Forward

While the scientific understanding of PTSD has expanded rapidly over the past half-century, there is still much to learn. Reluctance amongst law enforcement officers to discuss mental health and seek treatment when necessary make PTSD a persistent challenge to readiness and overall health in the profession. As new therapies and treatment strategies are devised and tested, researchers continue to inform their work with the experiences of those at greater risk of experiencing trauma.

In our next post, we’ll be examining strategies law enforcement agencies and leaders are using to address PTSD among their officers.

Law enforcement is inherently a 24/7 profession. Calls for service can come in at any hour of the day, and it is mission-critical that a department’s officers be alert and able to respond to these calls quickly and efficiently. The nature of shift work and its often-unpredictable scheduling can lead to a substantial occurrence of fatigue in law enforcement, which in turn can manifest as a challenge to an agency’s readiness as well as a genuine health concern for officers.

Effects of Fatigue in Law Enforcement

Fatigue isn’t always one discrete condition but rather can present itself as a range of symptoms that includes feelings of tiredness, depression, other mood disorders, and reduced mental and physical capacities. A lack of sleep can also lead to memory impairment, irritability, and stress-related illnesses like obesity and hypertension.

Night Fatigue

More than 90 percent of law enforcement officers report being routinely fatigued, and 85 percent report driving while drowsy. Effectively, officers are almost always doing their jobs while experiencing some degree of fatigue.

More than 90 percent of law enforcement officers report being routinely fatigued, and 85 percent report driving while drowsy. National Institute of Justice Journal.

Beyond the health impacts, persistent fatigue creates real-world dangers for officers and the communities they serve. More officers are killed by unintended events, like auto collisions, than events related to the commission of felonies. In recent years, up to a third of officer deaths have involved automotive accidents. Research into officer fatigue and auto collisions indicates that as many as 46% of officers have nodded off while driving. The danger doesn’t stop with the end of a shift either, as many officers endure substantial commutes to reach their homes.

What is Contributing to Officer Fatigue?

Long workweeks with the possibility of overtime or moonlighting are the most attributable causes of officer fatigue. A study published in the National Institute of Justice Journal looked at officer fatigue’s underlying and less-obvious causes. Though it is difficult to establish specific causes and effects of a subject as complicated as fatigue, the research pointed to five main areas of concern related to officer fatigue.

SHIFT LENGTH

Shorter duration shifts that occur with greater frequency are shown to be more disruptive to sleep patterns. Research findings suggest that agencies that schedule a 40-hour workweek over less than five days reduce the fatigue felt by officers.

SHIFT POLICIES

As we age, our ability to cope with fatigue diminishes. This is especially true for shift workers. As such, older officers tend to experience the effects of inconsistent shift scheduling more intensely than their younger colleagues.

HOME LIFE

Officers with young children experience profound fatigue at a greater rate than officers without children. This may be especially true for women in law enforcement. Interestingly, though female officers’ sleep quality is often reported as lower than their male counterparts, they tend to report less fatigue.

COMMUTING

As more officers live outside the communities they work in, commuting times are generally rising throughout the country. Longer commutes, compounded by the stress of heavy traffic in many metro areas, show a strong correlation with reported fatigue levels.

SHIFT REGULARITY

Irregular shift schedules can play havoc with a person’s circadian rhythms (the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle). In contrast, fixed shift schedules do not seem to produce such a dramatic effect on reported fatigue.

STAFFING SHORTAGES

As many as 86% of officers state their agencies do not have enough sworn and support staff. These shortfalls are causing severe strain in scheduling at agencies around the country.

Compassion Fatigue

Though not a new concept, compassion fatigue is increasingly part of the conversation surrounding officer fatigue. Though much police work is relatively routine, most officers will respond to extreme situations like domestic violence, a mass-casualty event, or child exploitation at least once in their careers. Typically, officers are called to service by a desire to help their communities, and in these intense situations, they operate as caregivers as much as first-responders, comforting victims and working to restore a sense of order to otherwise chaotic situations.

A growing body of research suggests that repeated trauma accrues within an officer among law enforcement officers and other first responders and medical personnel, potentially leading them to have difficulty disengaging from a stressful shift. Compassion fatigue impacts cognitive processes, feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, and negative behavioral patterns that can often involve substance abuse. Recent survey data shows as many as 23% of officers report high levels of compassion fatigue. The anecdotal discussion suggests this number is likely growing.

Charting a Course of Action

To combat officer fatigue, departments are moving past long-established law enforcement traditions and, instead, are following the data from research to inform their decision-making. Some departments are experimenting with and seeing results from four-day workweeks and compressed shifts as a part of broader wellness programming. Other departments limit officer overtime, capping them at no more than 20-25 hours per week to encourage rest and healthy sleep schedules. Giving officers a say in their shift schedule has also shown promise in reducing the effects of shiftwork, lending some predictability to an officer’s schedule.

While structural forces constitute a significant driver of fatigue risk factors, officers can take action to reduce these risks for themselves. Good physical fitness can mitigate the effects of fatigue. Quitting smoking or nicotine use and moderating caffeine and alcohol intake are also positive steps, often supported by Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), that promote the healthy sleep and rest needed to fight fatigue.

The study of compassion fatigue is not as advanced as the study of other forms of fatigue. However, the ability of an officer to experience gratification from their service seems to be an essential factor in managing compassion fatigue. Agency leaders can help promote a feeling of gratification from service by inviting officers to share positive stories of their impact on the community in rollcall or other ways. Peer-support programs, mental health support, and different facets of EAP offerings also show real promise in emphasizing the value of an officer’s work.

The nature of policing will always create significant challenges to officer wellness. The combination of a 24-hour schedule with calls for service that can be emotionally intense poses real dangers to officers’ mental and physical health. By understanding what causes fatigue, departmental leaders can follow the research to craft policies that can help reduce the prevalence of fatigue in law enforcement.

The importance of family is nothing new in the field of policing. For many, the decision to take up the profession is, at least in part, motivated by established family traditions of service in law enforcement. Before the commonplace adoption of formalized employee assistance programs (EAP) and departmental wellness initiatives, an officer’s family served a critical if informal role in helping officers cope with their profession’s stress and potential trauma.

family wellnessAs EAPs and wellness programs have grown more comprehensive and sophisticated in their approaches, the role of wellness in an officer’s family life has come to be seen as a mission-critical element of organizational culture. Family Matters: Executive Guide for Developing Family-Friendly Law Enforcement Policies, Procedures, and Culture, 2021 guide produced by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), is the latest in a long line of best-practice resources that seek to understand better how healthy family relationships support officers’ wellness while offering practical, data-informed recommendations to law enforcement leaders. The document explores the symbiotic relationship between an officer’s wellness and performance on the job with the conditions of their home-life, recognizing both as having demonstrated impacts on one another.

Why should agencies support family wellness?

The guide frames efforts to create family-friendly policies and culture not as simply a “nice-to-have” element of mental health programming but as one of the keystones to better agency performance and overall officer wellness. Three distinct positive outcomes are identified as the primary benefits of enacting such policies:

Boosts officer performance

Policing is a stressful occupation. Officers have to contend with the nature of the job: traumatic events, a shift-based schedule, and sometimes contentious community discourse around policing. Added to this inherent stress are the financial and family issues many officers experience due to their work. When not managed well, these types of stress become cyclical, with family stress accelerating job performance issues and the job stress impacting family life. This can lead to poor sleep patterns, fatigue, burnout, and substance abuse problems that can affect not only job performance but also an officer’s safety on the job. Healthy family relationships are known to increase mental resiliency and help individuals process trauma.

Improving retention and recruitment

As discussed in a previous blog post, officer retention is a high-priority concern of many law enforcement leaders. Recruiting and training officers is costly and frequent turnover can diminish the continuity of institutional knowledge and organizational values within an agency. Officers leave a department for various reasons though most of them can be broadly described as a lack of satisfaction with their working conditions. A new generation of officers places a higher value on quality-of-life job benefits like work-life balance and parental leave.

Building a workforce that reflects the community it serves

A central theme to much of the research exploring the factors influencing public perceptions and trust of police is that diversity matters. Law enforcement agencies whose officers and staff represent the diversity of the communities they serve are more likely to experience higher levels of public trust than agencies that don’t prioritize diversity. This includes intentional efforts at recruiting officers from family backgrounds that more accurately represent the evolving cultural definitions of a family unit. Understanding cultural differences related to multi-generational households, LGBTQ+ families and relationships, and other domestic living arrangements is vital to building a department culture guided by family-friendly wellness policies.

“Police departments that are deliberately and strategically inclusive of all family types are more likely to mirror the communities they serve, and therefore may be more effective at serving them.” Family Matters: Executive Guide for Developing Family-Friendly Law Enforcement Policies, Procedures, and Culture. 2021.

What law enforcement agencies are doing?

While informal family support structures within the law enforcement community are nothing new, there has been an increased emphasis on formalizing and funding programming designed to meet the needs of officers’ families. As the understanding of the importance of family relationships in the overall picture of officer wellness grows, departments are incorporating evidence-based techniques designed to enhance wellness more holistically with an eye toward preventative measures rather than purely reactive actions. In many departments, programs such as mental health services, financial counseling, pension, retirement planning, and established peer-support networks have shown very real results in improving officers’ working conditions and creating a meaningful sense of wellness for them and their families. Here are a few examples:

Metropolitan Nashville Police Department

Interestingly, the MNPD’s mental health programming began with an outward focus, initially created as a victim services unit tasked with providing support to victims of traumatic crimes. The training that officers and staff received to understand better the needs of victims led to an inward focus at the department and recognition of the mental health need of officers. In 1986, MNPD created the Police Advocacy and Support Services (PASS) unit to provide cognitive and behavioral health services to officers, staff, and, especially relevant here, their families. PASS has expanded several times since its inception, and now, in addition to full-time staff, a volunteer staff of chaplains coordinates special services for officers’ spouses and families. These include “family days” at the beginning and conclusion of academy training, several ongoing group-based support structures, and in-depth assistance in the event of traumatic events.

Milwaukee Police Department

In a previous article, we looked at the Milwaukee Police Department’s approach to wellness. In the last decade, departmental leaders have made significant investments in in-house employee mental health services. To avoid a perception of being a punitive measure, the wellness program was moved out of internal affairs and into training. The program utilizes a full-time psychologist from a law enforcement family, a veteran officer as a peer support coordinator, and two chaplains who are both retired MPD officers.  The non-denominational chaplains have a purposefully wide-ranging set of duties conscientiously designed to embed them in the broader community of MPD officers and families. The chaplains provide everything from confidential counseling after use-of-force or other traumatic incidents to serving as officiants at officer weddings and attending other family-based events. Furthermore, the mental wellness team hosts Family Nights, emphasizing the diverse line-up of services available to families and maintaining up-to-date contact lists to provide ongoing support.

The State of New Jersey

Recognizing an unmet need for formalized peer support on a statewide level, the New Jersey state legislature created the Cop2Cop hotline in 1999. The program’s mission is to provide 24/7 peer support, crisis intervention, access to provider networks, and other mental health services to law enforcement officers and, crucially, their families. The hotline is staffed by many retired police officers, many of whom are licensed mental health professionals, to provide structured peer support for officers and their families in times of crisis. Employing former officers is thought to help establish a trusted sense of rapport, approaching mental health more from a cultural perspective than a clinical one. The hotline staff seeks to create a continuum of care with the average relationship between a caller and dedicated hotline staff assigned to the case lasting around six months with an average of 15 points of contact.

Policy produces results

Creating policies that recognize the value of officers’ family support systems is a vital component of 21stcentury policing. The move from informal family support structures to ones strengthened by family-friendly departmental policies isn’t simply the “right thing to do”. Agencies that enact policies that enhance officer and family wellness have demonstrated positive and lasting results in improving officer performance and building trust in the communities they serve.

The Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Act of 2017 served as an urgent call for more study into mental factors that contribute to officer wellness with the stated goal of producing actionable recommendations for law enforcement leaders. While the bill’s title suggests a somewhat narrow focus on mental health, the reality is that factors contributing to mental health among law enforcement officers span numerous interconnected areas of study. Researchers’ exploration of the subject has produced data vital to law enforcement leaders in their efforts to create innovative programs to promote officer wellness.

In our last post, we looked at some of the programs already in place at departments throughout the country. Many large, well-resourced departments have had employee assistance programs (EAP) in place for decades and continue to evolve them as emerging research sheds new light on how to best support officers in their careers. These programs have historically focused on counseling and peer-mentorship, demonstrating efficacy in improving officers’ working conditions.

Innovative Approaches to Officer WellnessAs research drives an increased emphasis on holistically supporting an officer’s wellness, new plans are being put into practice to work towards these aims. Some of the ideas may be surprising to outside observers in that they tackle causes of stress not typically addressed by traditional officer assistance programs. Among the more promising new tactics are programs designed to address underlying causes of job stress in officers: their physical fitness and financial health.

Financial Wellness

Stress about one’s personal or family finances is hardly unique to law enforcement officers. According to a wide-ranging study on financial health, 53% of respondents reported that simply thinking about their finances makes them anxious. That statistic jumps to as high as 63% in participants 18-35 years old, indicating the increased financial stress younger workers experience. Stress about debts and income is known to increase the chances of a person developing significant anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues.

Research published in the Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology suggests law enforcement officers may feel financial stress to an even greater degree than the general public. The study, published in 2020, surveyed causes of stress among 427 Illinois law enforcement officers. The data showed that concern about financial issues was a top cause of officer stress, with more than 72% of them reporting it as a significant factor, surpassing concerns about supervisor relationships or witnessing traumatic events while on duty. Reducing these financial worries is “extremely important” in reducing the overall stress that officers experience due to their work.

Lack of access to financial counseling services can be a real hindrance to financial health for officers whose salaries and wealth holdings might not reach the typical thresholds necessary to retain the services of a traditional wealth planner. Agencies like the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department have included financial counseling as a part of their EAP. The department facilitates peer-led groups that cover financial wellness as a component of their broader wellness curriculum. Furthermore, the department has, on several occasions, funded one-on-one visits from a financial planning consultant. Initially, the program was so popular that departmental leaders immediately scheduled extra sessions and follow-up meetings to satisfy robust demand from officers. Informational sessions and resources are also offered to retired officers to help them manage their finances post-employment.

Physical Wellness

Though there is a substantial physical component to the job for most officers, according to the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), only slightly more than half of them participate in any type of fitness regimen. Officers who do not keep a regular fitness routine were found in this IACP study to report more frequent issues with on-the-job injuries and to miss more shifts for post-injury rehabilitation. Missed shifts and opportunities for overtime can compound financial stress and strain on-the-job relationships, creating a domino effect of stressors.

Physical fitness among officers plays a more vital role in wellness than simply preventing injuries and missed shifts. Researchers and health professionals have documented a strong link between mental and physical health. Regular exercise is shown to reduce stress, improve mood, and enhance one’s resilience to mental health issues like anxiety and depression.

The Bend Police Department (BPD) has shown itself as willing to challenge law enforcement conventions to serve the goal of bettering officer wellness. Department leaders switched to a “three days on, four days off” schedule with 11.25-hour shifts in response to research suggesting that this rotation schedule is less disruptive to sleep cycles. The same study found that almost half of officers had reported falling asleep at the wheel, indicating the clear danger sleep deprivation poses to the officers themselves and the communities they serve.

The BPD also employs a unique set of mindfulness and yoga programs to create holistic improvements in officers’ overall wellness. These programs are, without a doubt, somewhat atypical for a law enforcement agency but have seen increasing buy-in from once-skeptical departmental leaders and officers. Daily mindfulness sessions are peer-led and involve meditation designed to facilitate stress reduction. After initial hesitancy, department leadership estimates as many as 75% of officers now participate in these sessions.

“As an officer, you feel like you never have time to shut off. The training helped me learn how to do that, even if it’s just during the ride home from work.” – Corporal Erick Supplee, BPD Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Programs: Eleven Case Studies

BPD’s yoga program focuses on flexibility and stress reduction as its core tenants. Critical to the program’s success, and a key recommendation for departments considering replicating it is finding an instructor able to demonstrate a commitment to understanding the specific needs of law enforcement officers and, most importantly, the culture of BPD and policing in general. Participation is voluntary, and as more officers give the program a chance, they’ve dispelled their preconceived notions about what yoga is about and who it is for. The program is seen as a success, contributing to a 40% reduction in job-related injuries. Owing to that success, yoga instruction has been renewed by the department through 2021.

A Complete Picture

As the understanding of officer wellness grows, aided by scientific research and study, so do departmental leaders’ approaches to supporting programs to enhance officer health. The products of researchers’ work consistently show officer wellness as impacted by a complex set of intersecting stresses, professional and personal needs. No single assistance program will produce dramatic improvements in overall wellness outcomes. Innovative methods like these, working in conjunction with well-established wellness-enhancing programs, show real promise as 21st-century solutions to persistent challenges to officer wellness.

 

 

In our previous article, we explored how researchers studying officer wellness are responding to a more urgent need to understand the psychological and physiological factors that impact an officer’s health and job performance. As research expands and the body of knowledge concerning officer wellness evolves, this newly gathered data is being put into practice. Departmental leaders are basing their decisions on this research when crafting policies and creating programs designed to support and enhance officer wellness.

The Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Act of 2017 was passed to give policymakers and police leaders more information to make these decisions. A significant component of the act was the mandate that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) make recommendations to Congress for ways to boost officer wellness. This multifaceted mandate focused on providing recommendations in three areas to improve officer wellness: how to best support agencies, their officers, and mental health providers working with law enforcement agencies.

Officer Wellness in PracticeTo understand the broader picture of best practices in officer wellness, the DOJ produced case studies of several departments throughout the country. The resulting report, Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Programs: Eleven Case Studies, utilized field interviews and site visits to document programs and support services currently in use. It emphasized a “continuum of mental health and wellness strategies, programs, and methodologies” that begin with the recruit and last through retirement. The strategies that the researchers investigated suggested significant efficacy in the departments that implemented them and have been held up as positive examples meriting further research.

The report looked at both common elements of these departments’ approaches to wellness and unique aspects of their efforts. Below are some notable examples from the case studies.

Indianapolis, IN

Leaders at the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department created what is now known as the Office of Professional Development and Wellness (OPDW) in 2010. The program emphasizes intensive peer-mentoring — provided by more than 100 experienced officers trained in peer support — that begins before an officer is sworn and lasts up to two years into their service. OPDW programs are specifically designed to help officers adapt to both the physical and mental demands of the job as well as provide ongoing support, connecting officers with mental health and counseling services. Leaders in the department credit the program with helping to change the agency’s culture by making it acceptable to talk about one’s personal and professional life and giving the mentor officers a sense of ownership of the department and in shaping its culture.

Bend, OR

The Bend Police Department began focusing resources on officer health and wellness in the early 2000s. The first major initiative was altering the shift schedule with sufficient overlap in shifts to give officers one hour a week of on-duty physical fitness programs. This early wellness effort eventually expanded into more comprehensive physical wellness programs for officers that, over time, correlated with a 40% decrease in on-the-job injuries. The department has employed an on-site psychologist since 2015 who is “embedded” with officers and engages in ride-alongs to build officer rapport and trust in an effort to “change the culture” around mental health in the department.

Dallas, TX

After a 2016 mass-casualty event affecting 14 officers, the Dallas Police Department greatly expanded its mental health services. It created the DPD Employee Support Program (ESP), which uses officer self-referrals and leaders’ referrals based on early intervention tactics. Referrals are confidential, regardless of source, and do not appear on an officer’s record with the goal of reducing the stigma of seeking support. Three staff psychologists provide services to support the research-based wellness needs of police officers and departments. These include pre-employment screening, family and marriage counseling, debriefing after critical incidents, and fostering peer-support networks. In 2018 DPD partnered with the Brain Health Brain Performance Institute at the University of Texas in Dallas to create a data-driven 12-hour mindfulness course to reduce stress, promote cognitive resilience, and improve focus.

Milwaukee, WI

In 2014 the Milwaukee Police Department began steps towards a substantial shift in the way they approached early intervention. Conducting focus groups with officers and drawing on research from the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), they moved their early intervention program out of Internal Affairs to its Training Division and changed its focus to officer wellness. This was complemented by hiring a full-time psychologist to assist officers in general referrals and work-related trauma cases. Along with the shift in early intervention strategy and a staff psychologist, the department’s non-denominational chaplains are a key element of a three-pronged approach to officer wellness. The lead chaplain is a retired MPD officer, sits on the POST board, and has a stellar reputation among the officers. The chaplains are covered by laws similar to attorney-client privilege, therefore providing a highly trusted source of peer and trauma support that is, in many ways, unique to the MPD.

Tucson, AZ

The Tucson Police Department was one of the first departments in the country to have a unit devoted to officer wellness in mental health when it created the Behavioral Sciences Unit (BSU) in the early 1980s. It presently consists of a psychologist and two sergeants acting as peer support supervisors. Owing to the unit’s importance in the department, its funding has been protected even during major budget cutbacks. The BSU provides a very comprehensive line-up of services to officers that are proactive, focusing on resilience and coping strategies to mitigate stress. The BSU hosts “Family Day” as part of a recruit’s training, taking this focus a step forward by recognizing the demonstrated importance that family support plays. In these sessions, BSU staff members help families understand the potential effects of a career in law enforcement and, most importantly, the confidential support services available to them.

Officer Wellness and Early Intervention

All of these departments are united in emphasizing a proactive approach to monitoring and improving officer wellness. Early intervention, especially in the case of trauma and work-related stress, shows up in many examples as a critical strategy in this approach. Benchmark Analytics’ First Sign® stands alone in its capacity to comprehensively analyze officer performance data for off-track behavior, which can be an important indicator of mental or physical health challenges, family issues, or workplace stress.

These distinct examples show that by following the research, encouraging top-down buy-in, and a willingness to try new methods, departmental leaders have the potential to make a real impact on their officers’ wellness.

Our next article will focus on some of the more innovative ways departments are promoting officer wellness.

Research Insights into Officer WellnessOfficer wellness is a perennial top-tier focus for law enforcement leaders as well as researchers and scientists. It is well understood that when one enters the profession, they will likely be exposed to an exceptional level of mental stress and physical danger — unmatched by almost any private-sector job. Although this danger is most frequently thought of by observers from outside the world of law enforcement in terms of vehicle pursuits, armed encounters, and the kind of tense, dramatic situations that make for headlines — this isn’t always typically reflective of an officer’s day-to-day experience on the job. Policymakers, the public, and officers themselves are increasingly recognizing that the psychological challenges of the profession are just as real as the physical risks and, in many cases, potentially more challenging to find solutions to address.

21st Century Solutions

As a result of this awareness, a new approach to officer wellness is now being discussed to protect officers in the same way their gear, equipment, and even community support can. Recognition of its importance reaches the highest levels, being discussed as one of the six pillars of policy recommendations the President’s Task Force made on 21st Century Policing in its 2015 report.

“The wellness and safety of law enforcement officers is critical not only to themselves, their colleagues, and the agencies but also to public safety,” Final Report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, 2015.

This section of the report offers several research-based recommendations for holistically addressing officer wellness to meet the challenges of a new era of policing. Action items address tangible needs, with calls for every officer to be provided with anti-ballistic vests and tactical first aid kits, smart car technology to reduce vehicle collisions, and reforms to pension plans to cover both duty and non-duty disability events. Notably, it also prioritizes calls for funding for accelerated research into all facets of officer wellness, specifically the study of officers’ mental health challenges.

The urgency to better understand the needs of officers and how policy recommendations can improve their sense of wellness has only increased with the added stress of recent high-profile incidents as well as a global pandemic that has created unforeseen demands on police departments. The effects of occupational stress and mental health are well documented, and new research aims to grow the understanding of how that impacts the bigger picture of officer well-being. In recent years there have been many studies and surveys that have created much-needed data to not only help law enforcement leaders anticipate officers’ needs, but also to create new and far-reaching policies that will make meaningful differences in the way they do their jobs.

Research into Officer Wellness

An officer’s work can often involve traumatic and intense situations during a shift. Although it is difficult to know a precise figure, the Department of Justice estimates in a recent publication that roughly 15% of officers nationwide experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms, which have the potential to impair decision-making and officer’s ability to do their job. The paper highlights scientific research looking at the effects of PTSD on brain function, notably studying police officers themselves and not a general population sample group.

Another manifestation of trauma-induced stress is burnout, which is defined by chronic exposure to these stresses. It can manifest as excessive cynicism, detachment from one’s work, emotional exhaustion, and feelings of low professional achievement, to name just a few of the most prominent examples. A newly conducted review from 2020 analyzed 108 research studies to better understand operational stress and burnout among officers. The need to increase understanding of officer burnout is evident, with 56% of officers reporting in Pew Research Center’s 2017 Behind the Badge survey that they have become “more callous” since taking the job. The same study found that the feeling of burnout is linked to generally negative feelings toward the job.

The stresses of policing have historically been challenging to address due to a workplace culture that does not always prioritize, or conversely can even tacitly penalize, an officer needing help. It is often said that no one understands a police officer’s work like other police officers, and when a network of peer-support is suppressed due to cultural norms, it can compound the stress officers are feeling. To help research a body of work to understand how officers and their departments can support stress reduction, the National Institute of Justice is funding a strategic research agenda, taking a multifaceted approach to fighting stress among law enforcement officers.

Building and Using a Body of Research

Common in the new studies, surveys, and literature reviews are calls for further academic research. Ramped-up funding for research, spurred in part by the President’s Task Force on 21st Policing, is creating new data, which allows researchers to contribute to the body of knowledge and ask new questions that will shed more light onto the conditions that impact officer wellness, but will also aid policing leaders in crafting solutions that address the issue.

Implementation of research findings is seen in projects like Northeastern University’s Institute on Urban Health Research and Practice’s Vicarious Trauma Toolkit (VTT). This multidisciplinary project, in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Justice, the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), and many other institutional partners, refocuses responses to officer wellness from individual actions and “self-help” to address the issue to a systemic approach leveraging agency resources to assist officers in need.

Policing will likely always carry specific risks not seen in most other professions. With the physical and mental hazards that officers face on the job, the need for more research into how organizations and leaders can best support their officers is clear. Through continuing research, data analysis, and recommendations based on this expanding body of knowledge, academics and police leaders are at the forefront of advancing officer wellness as a vital issue in policing.

Look for our next blog exploring how agencies are putting this research into practice. 

Police retention has long been a significant point of discussion and reflection among departmental leaders, researchers, and policymakers. Like so many issues facing police leaders today, there is no simple solution to this complex problem. There are, however, both established strategies and innovative new ideas to help leaders confront the challenges of retention, enabling their departments to fulfill their mission and serve the needs of their communities more effectively.

As was discussed in our previous article, there is a genuine need for departments to expand their current staffing levels to deal with rapidly evolving challenges facing policing in this country. Looking at the most recent figures available from research produced by Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), resignations have increased as much as 18% year over from the previous year, while retirements have topped out at a 45% increase over the same period. This level of police attrition combined with recent recruitment shortfalls has established police retention as a topic of urgent interest to police leaders.

Why is Police Retention is Important

One of the more easily quantifiable problems of insufficient officer retention is the bottom-line cost to agencies. With the cost of training a recruit surpassing $100,000 in many departments, the desire to not have that investment “walk out of the door” with an officer transferring between departments or leaving the profession is easily understood. This problem is especially prevalent, though not exclusive to smaller departments, which officers sometimes see as steppingstones to more comprehensively resourced agencies.

Police Retention

Less quantifiable but of vital importance is the departmental culture that a reasonably stable staff of sworn officers helps create. Though it is difficult to assign a dollar value to the institutional knowledge and expertise lost when officers leave a department before retirement, the loss is felt both within the department and the community it serves. Experienced and successful officers build up a rapport with their colleagues and the community, allowing them to promote a healthy agency culture and understand conditions in the field and pass that experience on to more junior officers.

 Why Officers are Leaving

  • Chiefs and other departmental executives report salary as the top reason officers exit the profession or join another agency. The problem is especially acute for small departments that often have more limited budgets when compared to that of larger cities and state or federal governments.
  • The public perception of policing is changing, driven to some extent by recent high-profile incidents. This degree of social pressure combined with mismatched expectations new officers may have about the nature of the job is a significant driver of early-career attrition.
  • Much like in the workforce on the macro-level, police departments face generational changes led by Baby Boomer retirements. While Generation X officers make up a sizeable portion of departments today, millennials are filling many of the vacancies left by retiring boomers. This new generation tends to look beyond the availability of overtime and retirement benefits as primary motivators to stay on the job. They are seeking work that offers personal fulfillment as well as opportunities for advancement and higher pay through skills development, education, and cross-training.

Police Retention Strategies

Though the problems posed by diminishing police retention can be seen as daunting, leaders in the profession are leveraging research from various academic disciplines to address these challenges.  Compensation issues are being addressed creatively without increasing base pay by offering benefits like performance bonuses, take-home vehicles, and subsidized education and enrichment opportunities. Departments are using in-depth behavioral interviews, job previews, and sessions with veteran officers to give recruits a 360° view of the profession to prevent them from leaving early in their careers due to a potential misunderstanding about the nature of the job.

There are numerous studies that suggest the younger cohort of officers is looking to satisfy different needs than previous generations with their career in law enforcement. Concepts like a sense of belonging, self-esteem, and self-actualization typically rank higher among millennials than older generations. Departments with rigid hierarchical structures and transactionally based leadership can find themselves at odds with these needs. To address this, agency leaders around the country are taking cues from the private sector and emphasizing work-life balance by offering benefits like flex time off, maternal and paternal leave, and enhanced recognition for exemplary performance.

The evolution of workplace culture in policing cannot solely be driven from the top down. Best practice recommendations from the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) speak to the value of developing the leadership abilities of mid-level supervisors by offering clear career ladders and career counseling to help officers identify opportunities for advanced training and education. This not only helps to promote a positive departmental culture by placing officers that demonstrate these values in positions of influence where they will lead by example, but it also addresses the need for belonging and self-actualization – demonstrating a path of career advancement leading to more responsibility, more opportunity, higher compensation and, ideally, higher job satisfaction.

Data-Driven Tools

Using tools like the Benchmark Management System®, departmental leaders can get quick overviews of an officer’s level of performance while also having the ability to drill down much further into an officer’s conduct, levels of training and educational attainment, and public feedback, to get a much more holistic view of an officer. With a comprehensive view of their officers’ potential, leaders can make data-informed decisions when it is time to allocate resources for additional training, education, and leadership development. This approach helps officers feel a sense of belonging and mission through career progression and promotes a healthy work culture that recognizes and demonstrably values performance.

The challenges of police retention are as diverse as the agencies they affect. Budgetary constraints and the public perception of police are complicated, long-term issues that require multi-faceted solutions to address. Promoting a healthy departmental culture that values performance, integrity, and the drive to grow professionally is something within departmental leaders’ capabilities to influence. By nurturing this kind of positive workplace culture, leaders are taking an important step in improving officer retention and the overall effectiveness of their departments.

Though new tools and tech have continually changed policing there is one tool that has experienced few fundamental changes over the years: the human mind. Law enforcement officers practice their profession in some of the most complex working conditions imaginable. While the value of new, physical tools used by officers is hard to dispute, it is new research into the function of the mind in these demanding working conditions that is producing new thinking in the world of law enforcement. Relatively recent breakthroughs in neuroscience and in the social sciences are contributing to a new understanding of how law enforcement officers use their social skills, emotional intelligence, and empathy to better do their jobs. In this article, we’ll look at a few of the specific ways in which this new understanding is changing law enforcement training.

Research-Based Police Training

There is a long-standing practice in policing of incorporating the latest in philosophy, real-world experience, and social-science research into law enforcement training curriculums. This goes back to the foundation of modern policing in which new ideas and observations around industrialism and urbanism were, in turn, used as arguments for a professionalized approach to law enforcement. Moving into the 20th century, discourse and research emanating from the worlds of psychology, sociology, and criminology led to a deeper examination of the very role of police in society. Out of this grew technologies like COMPSTAT and philosophies like community policing which, respectively, served to better understand the broader societal problems facing communities as well as proposing a remedy for these problems.

law enforcement social science training

As science, technology, and our understanding of human interaction increase at a pace never before seen, these new areas of study are being applied to policing. Over the last 30 years we’ve seen the field of neuroscience emerge as a new tool to better understand how officers process the world around them. Using some of the same techniques and tools high-performance athletes use to evaluate their capabilities, researchers are studying the interplay of cognition, muscle memory, perception, and much more and how they relate to officer performance. These breakthroughs coming from the study of human interaction and cognition are leading to innovations in law enforcement training that will improve the working environment for officers as well as community relations and perceptions of law enforcement.

Countering Implicit Bias

Common in reform dialog are calls for training to address implicit bias. The goal is to counter unconscious biases people hold about others that impact reactions and split-second decision-making. These biases exist throughout different countries and cultures, affecting everyone from doctors and police officers to more common professions like store clerks and restaurant servers. The challenge for educators and law enforcement trainers is finding meaningful ways to counter a bias that for most is, by definition, a product of the unconscious mind.

The prevailing notion is that by being aware of and understanding these biases, people can take the first steps in learning to work to improve reactions based upon them. While there is some research that suggests these trainings can be helpful, there are other studies that indicate these types of training, if executed poorly, can actually have the opposite effect. Research into the efficacy of implicit bias training is ongoing and it is generally agreed that further research is needed to fine-tune learning approaches for maximum benefit.

De-escalation

It has been stated that “with the possible exception of implicit bias training, no other training is more demanded by policymakers, police executives, […and] citizens than de-escalation training”. Often, these two types of training work hand-in-hand as a part of a broader effort for training-led reform efforts. De-escalation is also often seen as an outgrowth of the core values of community policing, another prominent and ongoing reform effort.

Training typically focuses on elements like verbal and non-verbal communication styles (body language, etc.), building rapport with subjects, and, when needed, physical intervention techniques that minimize the risk of harm. As a relatively new type of police training, there is still much to learn about the best practices and methods by which to instruct officers on de-escalation. A primary point of discussion in research as to its efficacy revolves around maintaining officer safety and that of the general public.

Interpersonal skills

 Not so much a defined training curriculum as it is a philosophy, there are many researchers in the field of policing that believe a more holistic and multi-disciplinary approach in policing starts with an emphasis on recruiting and training officers for interpersonal skills. Policing is an extremely complex profession that requires officers to be prepared for a huge variety of interactions at the beginning of each shift. A growing body of research is showing that officers benefit from employing emotional intelligence and empathy much in the same way their other technical training prepares them for the unpredictability of the job.

Much of the fundamental framework of this philosophy relies on research that shows empathy is critical for building public trust on both the micro and macro levels. Using empathy on the job can be a critical factor in many instances; for example, responding to a domestic violence call – where gaining the trust of the victim is crucial. It can also foster growth of compassion and the reduction of compassion fatigue within an agency which tends to promote a culture of peer support that is vital in helping officers deal with the stress of their profession.

Always Improving

The likes of threat assessment techniques, intelligence gathering, and technical expertise will always be major components of law enforcement training. However, as researchers continue to hypothesize and gather evidence, it is the study of the role of the mind and human intelligence that’s arguably growing the quickest in terms of its importance.

While more research is, as always, needed to refine our understanding of the importance of the mind and emotional intelligence in policing one thing is becoming clearer – officers and departments that embrace training focusing on these factors tend to see better outcomes for their officers and the citizens within the communities they serve. Benchmark Analytics supports these departments and their leaders by providing research-based police force management and early intervention systems aimed at elevating the profession of policing.