Police officer wellness should be a top priority for every law enforcement agency across the nation. The very nature of policing is physically, emotionally and mentally draining, often resulting in a high burnout rate. For this reason, every law enforcement agency must have wellness support programs in place so they can provide their officers with adequate health and safety measures.
In recent years, the public safety industry has witnessed a larger emphasis being placed on police officer wellness. Thanks to this emphasis, the law enforcement industry has seen a large number of agencies offering voluntary employee wellness programs. However, an underlying issue with many of these programs is the overemphasis on the physical well-being of police officers, and the lack of emphasis on their mental well-being. The other issue with many of these programs is them being voluntary and not necessarily engrained in agency operations or culture.
The question now becomes, whose responsibility is it to protect our officers from the stress and trauma that comes with the job? Is it up to the individual, or does our police culture need to change?
Here are four actionable items that can be implemented by police departments to improve officer wellness:
Law enforcement wellness begins at training
The approved training curriculum for police academies consists of physical tests, firearm training, department protocol, defensive tactics, report writing, court testimony and other practical aspects of the job.
While some academies are beginning to add a variety of courses with wellness in mind, it would be beneficial to see a more comprehensive course offering coping strategies, wellness practices and how to deal with trauma. Offering police officers the proper tools to cope with stress and trauma will set them up with the support they need to be long-serving members of our departments. Moreover, normalizing reaching out for mental health support will assist in creating a foundation for a sustainable and healthy police culture.
A Balanced Wellness Program
Many studies have shown how costly it is for police agencies to replace veteran police officers who have left the field due to wellness issues. For this reason alone, police agencies need to begin implementing a balanced wellness program that takes a proactive approach to potential wellness issues.
Of course, there is a large initial investment to some of these programs, but the return on your investment would come in the result of employees that remain in the department longer, are more effective at their jobs and are much happier overall.
InTime Wellness is the first public safety wellness program of its kind due to the proactive approach it takes to police scheduling and wellness. InTime Wellness supports officers’ mental health through scheduling data insights, and sends alerts if officers are reaching fatigue threshold levels. This wellness platform is integrated into InTime scheduling, and effectively supports your staff’s well-being, strengthens employee retention and addresses officer wellness from a data-driven approach. Moreover, InTime Wellness also features a robust Wellness Library, offering your police officers 24/7, anonymous access to wellness resources whenever they need them.
Officers working night patrol often don’t have the same healthy food options as day patrol. Even for day patrol officers, it’s much easier to reach for a burger or another fast food option when you’re on-the-fly. One of the main problems with fast food is that it often causes a sharp spike and drop in energy levels, and doesn’t give you the steady sustained energy you need while on shift.
It’s important to encourage your police officers to make healthy food choices, such as choosing food options that are high in protein and have a balance of slow-digesting carbs. The benefit of slow-digesting carbs is that they increase your blood glucose levels slowly. Processed foods, such as white bread and white rice, will spike blood glucose quickly and then sharply drop off. One example of a modification an officer can make when ordering a burrito is to get the burrito as a bowl and substitute white rice for brown rice or ask for a whole wheat wrap. Providing your officers with basic nutrition knowledge can go a long way in improving employee wellness.
Improve police officer scheduling
Officer wellness isn’t just about offering great resources and employee programs. To approach police officer wellness holistically, you need to look at your day-to-day scheduling practices.
Are you ensuring an equitable allocation of overtime and extra-duty shifts? Are you strictly enforcing fatigue rules? Are you accountable for how many hours your officers are working? Can you ensure your officers have the training qualifications to work a particular shift? All of these questions relate directly to officer safety. If these questions are not being covered, the health and safety of both your officers and your department are being put at serious risk.
Take for example an officer who signs up for an extra-duty shift immediately after coming off a 12-hour straight. That officer is a huge liability to your department; they are sleep deprived, extremely fatigued and most likely will not be able to exercise clear judgment.
It’s imperative for your day-to-day and extra-duty scheduling to be in one system. Manual scheduling often prevents police agencies from knowing (without careful analysis) if they have an officer working too many hours. By streamlining your scheduling into one system, you can easily apply the same fatigue and department rules to every rotation, effectively creating a safer work environment.
Other wellness considerations for your police department include:
- Choosing the right shift length. In a study examining 8, 10, and 12-hour shifts it was found that people working 10-hour shifts reported more sleep and a higher quality of life.
- Choosing the right rotation pattern. One study found that out of 3,722 police officers studied, 51% experienced bad sleep quality. An incorrect shift pattern can have detrimental effects on the overall wellness of police officers. Police departments must choose a shift pattern that works for their entire department.
You can offer all the employee wellness programs in the world, but if a basic issue like officer fatigue is not taken care of first then the rest will possibly be very hard to achieve. It’s clear, Officer Wellness is a holistic approach that puts protecting our employees first and foremost.
If your police agency is looking to approach your officers’ wellness holistically, reach out to our team to see how InTime Wellness can benefit your police agency.