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.

The Covid-19 pandemic did not stop law enforcement officers from patrolling areas by car, motorcycle or even foot, directing traffic during signal malfunctions or accidents, assisting in processing crimes, or executing other duties required to protect and serve their community. While these might be considered routine activities, they still put officers at high risk of exposure to the Covid-19 virus. Likewise, new requirements and responsibilities such as responding to complaints for shelter-in-place violations have increased face-to-face interactions, as well as Covid-19 exposure, for law enforcement personnel.

Law Enforcement COVID 19

But even after state and municipal shelter-in place restrictions end, exposure risks will persist. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), communities will be dealing with the virus through the summer months, with a potential second wave coming in the Fall. That means that agencies and their officers will need to maintain their diligence for the foreseeable future.

Law Enforcement Technology that Support Agency Workforce Challenges

Overcoming this pandemic will take resilience and time, but it is important for us to tackle these new challenges with innovative solutions. With the abiding impact of Covid-19, public safety agencies need to determine the most efficient strategies for controlling its effect and managing fluctuations in workforce availabilities. While dealing with these peaks and valleys isn’t new to some public safety agencies, it’s safe to say that most have not experienced limited workforce challenges that could last several weeks, if not months.

The Benchmark Covid Impact Management System (CIMS) was developed to address these challenges. With CIMS, public safety agencies have a single-source, turnkey software platform — designed to report and track all Covid-related incidents in one unique, easy-to-administer and security-protected location. CIMS provides agencies essential reports which include Potential Exposure, Sick Leave, Test Tracker, and Return to Service.

According to the National Police Foundation COVID-19 Law Enforcement Impact Dashboard, nearly every state has had a law enforcement officer exposed to the virus. Law Enforcement TechnologyOur Potential Exposure Report is completed when a police officer or department staff member has reported that they may have been exposed to the Covid-19 virus. It includes:

  • Definitions/guidelines of exposure and close contact
  • Date, time, location and nature of potential exposure
  • Name and contact information of individual exposed
  • Description of any health-related symptoms since contact
  • Recommendations for further actions

The Sick Leave Report should be used when a department employee has officially gone on sick leave due to exposure, and provides data on:

  • Date leave effective, symptoms and Covid-19 related queries
  • Results of any medical tests conducted during sick leave
  • List of contacts within and outside of the agency
  • Information on specifics of quarantine, if applicable
  • Details of any future work-related conflicts due to leave

The CIMS Test Tracker Report provides relevant information on any Covid-19 test taken by an officer or staff member. It includes:

  • Reason for taking test and details of exposure, if applicable
  • Date, time, type and location of test
  • Symptoms exhibited at time of test and following test
  • Results reported for the Covid-19 test

Lastly, the Return to Service Report should be completed and reviewed before an officer can return to work following a sick leave, and summarizes:

  • All symptoms reported since beginning of sick leave
  • Answers to all Covid-19 related inquiries
  • Current condition of employee on sick leave
  • Requirements of return and anticipated date of return
  • Review and recommendations for return to service

While the COVID-19 pandemic has formed new obstacles for public safety, the Benchmark Covid Impact Management System provides agencies the information they need to manage their workforce efficiently and effectively. To learn more about CIMS, as well as view a demo of the system, visit https://www.benchmarkanalytics.com/cims/.

The first documented use of data and analysis in American policing was in 1906 by August Vollmer in Berkeley, California. Vollmer organized patrol beats based on reviewing police reports and pin-mapping crimes.
(Source: Increasing Analytic Capacity of State and Law Enforcement Agencies: Moving Beyond Data Analysis to Create a Vision for Change by the Bureau of Justice Assistance, Law Enforcement Forecasting Group).

Data in Policing

Data and analysis have now been part of American policing for more than a century – evolving from Vollmer’s pin-mapping to comparative data tables; from simple patterns analysis and batch processing on mainframe computers to user interface with real-time analysis; and eventually to more flexible and sophisticated analysis.

From Undefined to Predictive
Considering the growth of information today, as well as expansion of technology solutions, it is critical for public safety agencies to understand their organization’s data. However, data and analysis vary from agency to agency, and this can best be described in the five stages of transformative management for law enforcement.

Transformative Management is how agencies oversee processes and data related to police force management, to improve the effectiveness of both their civilian and sworn personnel. The stages start at Undefined and move along a pathway  to Manual, Digital, Analytic and Predictive. At the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) 2019 Annual Conference, Nick Montgomery, Chief Research Officer at Benchmark Analytics, shared with attendees what each stage meant:

  • Undefined: An agency is at the Undefined stage when they have not begun implementing data-collection systems and have no operational initiatives to utilize data in decision-making.IACP 2019 Presentation
  • Manual: An agency is at the Manual stage when they have defined processes — though the processes are often managed by manually logging data into spreadsheets and using rudimentary analysis.
  • Digital: At the Digital stage, agencies start automating manual processes and source programs to develop data management workflows.
  • Analytic: In order to analyze data, agencies need to be able to “read” it. At the Analytic stage, an agency has the data and is beginning to understand what it means.
  • Predictive: Law enforcement agencies can benefit from developing an analytic capacity, and this is demonstrated in the Predictive stage. The Predictive stage is when agencies use the data, reports, and analytics to make meaningful decisions – optimizing the outcomes they aim to achieve through transformation.

Montgomery also shared that agencies often achieve these stages in two milestones. The first milestone is Undefined to Digital. The second milestone is Digital to Predictive.

In the first milestone, agencies reach the Digital stage and have automated manual processes, as well as start to bring in data. However, agencies may not know how to utilize the data yet. In the second milestone, agencies reach the Predictive stage because they engage in multiple data sources, as well as use robust reporting tools, to hone in on the data that matters most— in order to better serve their personnel and surrounding community.

Reaching the Predictive Stage
Agencies should incorporate technology solutions that can help them reach the Predictive stage in transformative management, such as:

  • Early Intervention Systems (EIS)
    EIS platforms are used by many agencies — but most are trigger-based systems that regularly produce inaccuracies. In Montgomery’s IACP presentation, he shared that trigger-based Early Intervention systems typically flag the wrong officers and can produce a high rate of false negatives and false positives in a department.

    A research based EIS utilizes machine learning, has the ability to learn patterns in data as well as to use those patterns to make predictions. As a result, agencies significantly reduce the number of incorrect flags and, instead, can take a proactive and preventative approach when identifying officers that may require additional training, counseling or intervention.

    Learn more about how Early Intervention Systems have evolved, as well as view the full IACP presentation here.

  • Personnel Management Software
    Personnel management software, like the Benchmark Management System®, is designed to capture all day-to-day operational information in one location. It also provides agencies an all-encompassing, fully automated management tool – essential for capturing critical data, as well as departmental reports and forms. For example, BMS provides custom Exposure Forms, used to monitor all interactions related to coronavirus – to help identify trends, facilitate proactive intervention and help keep law enforcement agencies safe.

    The BMS reporting dashboard also provides agencies with a fully-automated administrative backbone – acting as a workforce multiplier to help your agency do more with less.

  • Training Management System (TMS)
    It is critical for agencies to have the tools to deliver up-to-date training organization-wide, especially during the evolving coronavirus pandemic. A TMS allows departments to train virtually, track completion and send updates in a way that best prepares officers to serve successfully and safely. Additionally, a TMS tracks training activities crucial for managing certifications to meet mandatory compliance.

    Learn about how a TMS can help your agency in our post: The Benefits of a Learning Management System for Today’s Public-Sector Organizations.

If you would like to know more about what Benchmark can do to help your agency reach the Predictive stage, visit us at Ready to do more with your data?

Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) has impacted communities across the country, as law enforcement and other public sector agencies prepare for the short- and long-term effects of this virus. This includes having tools in place to support staffing, training and communication; having ample supplies such as personal protective equipment (PPE); being prepared for evolving community requests; and delivering plans and procedures that reflect recommendations from local, state and federal authorities. COVID-19 Funding

To ensure that public safety agencies across the U.S. are prepared for the current impact of COVID-19, as well as what lies ahead, Federal grant resources have been issued.

Federal Grant Resources: BJA-CESF
On March 30, 2020 a grant solicitation was shared by the Office of Justice Programs  regarding the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) Coronavirus Emergency Supplemental Funding (CESF) program. The funding program has $850 million available and the BJA intends to make 1,873 awards.

The BJA-CESF program will provide funding to assist eligible states, local units of government, and tribes in preventing, preparing for, and responding to the coronavirus. BJA -CESF

In the solicitation, the BJA shared that “States, U.S. Territories, the District of Columbia, units of local government, and federally recognized tribal governments that were identified as eligible for funding under the Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 State and Local Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) Program are eligible to apply under the Coronavirus Emergency Supplemental Funding (CESF) Program solicitation. Only the State Administering Agency that applied for FY 2019 JAG funding for a state/territory may apply for the state allocation of CESF funding.”

The eligible allocations for the FY 2020 CESF Program can be found at: https://bja.ojp.gov/program/fy20-cesf-allocations

What will BJA-CESF be used for?
Funds awarded under the CESF program will be used to prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus. Allowable projects and purchases include, but are not limited to:

  • Overtime, equipment (including law enforcement and medical PPE)
  • Hiring
  • Supplies (such as gloves, mask, sanitizer)
  • Training (such as training management software for organization-wide virtual training — as well as cross-training of personnel for temporary duty reassignment to assure proper coverage of essential duties)
  • Travel expenses (particularly related to the distribution of resources to the most impacted areas)
  • Addressing the medical needs of inmates in state, local, and tribal prisons, jails and detention centers.

BJA-CESF program next steps
The application for BJA-CESF is due May 29, 2020. Cities and states are awarded funding on an ongoing, rolling basis from now till the application due date.

For more information how the BJA-CESF program works and grant submission help, visit our Grants Page at https://www.benchmarkanalytics.com/covid19-grants/.

The importance of COVID-19 data collection
The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) has shared that collecting data and documenting response protocols for future review and assessment during this time is important as well. “While pandemics rarely occur, an agency can learn a lot about its emergency response by studying past efforts,” as stated in IACP’s resource Organizational Readiness: Considerations for Preparing Your Agency for COVID-19. Types of data include, but are not strictly limited to, COVID-19-related calls for service, officer exposure, staffing numbers, and health and wellness measures of officers.

COVID-19 Data Collection

To that, agencies are partnering with personnel management software providers for monitoring, tracking and reporting data. For example, the Benchmark Management System® can create custom COVID-19 Exposure Forms that capture interactions related to coronavirus — to help identify trends, facilitate proactive intervention and help keep department personnel serving on the frontlines safe. This data can also be used post-pandemic to justify reimbursement of expenditures at the state and federal levels.

Visit benchmarkanalytics.com to learn more.

 

“Personnel management…is one of the most difficult challenges you face.” – Chuck Ramsey

Over the course of a decades-long career, Chuck Ramsey influenced, defined and communicated police culture at two major agencies. First, as Commissioner of the Philadelphia Police Department, then as Chief of the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia.

When he left his leadership role in Chicago for Philadelphia, he anticipated the two agencies would be mostly similar, though he quickly realized the differences would have a bigger impact on his goals for the agency.

How can a police executive proactively shape police culture?

Leaders are likely to find that the universality of police practices can cut both ways. They should allocate sufficient time to understanding their agency’s culture. This is especially critical in circumstances where you’re coming from outside the agency. Ultimately, any time you want to change how an agency operates, you need to understand the why and how of its current state.

Regardless of its familiarity, if your agency’s culture is divisive or fails to support your intended policies and training – such as an increased focus on officer wellness – it’s not the right one.

Try to see beyond the traditional mindset of policing. Its culture can only change by identifying and recognizing the people who do things the right way while intervening to correct and support those who don’t.

During a recent Q&A with Benchmark’s CEO, Ron Huberman, Chuck shared what he learned about developing cultures of excellence and wellness – as both an insider and an outsider – to help today’s leaders better navigate the changing landscape of policing.

Watch the entire discussion below: