Pulse of Policing: How individual cops are overcoming injuries of the mind, body, and spirit

In Health, Lifestyle by rapsheet

Pulse of Policing 2015: The State of Law Enforcement is an ongoing research venture aimed at examining the current state of policing in America from the individual, organizational, and industrial perspectives. Learn more about >>> Pulse of Policing

Because virtually everything in policing begins with the individual officer, we decided that our first series of pieces would address the issues officers face with regard to wellness in mind, body, and spirit. Specifically, afflictions which have had significant negative impact on our law enforcers — maintaining morale in troubled times, reducing the risk of heart attack, and dealing with issues related to PTSD. We also offer possible steps toward ameliorating those issues.

Keeping Morale High Despite Diminished Public Esteem
There is widespread perception among cops across the country that the majority of Americans are at war with their police. This is not true, of course — most people value and respect police officers. But the national narrative in the press and public protests — fomented by a small fraction of the population — is unambiguously anti-police.

Seeing this anti-cop fervor spread across the country, many officers have vocalized that they’ve become downtrodden and dejected — even hesitant to proactively do the job they love.  How do cops in 2015 keep their heads held high when simply getting out of bed every day to serve their community can feel like a monumental task? We asked our audience with the hope that their answers provide solutions for other cops struggling with this very real problem.

Preventing Preventable Officer Heart Attack Deaths
Heart attack is still killing too many of our officers — we’ve seen 16 fatal on-duty heart attacks so far this year, and who knows how many more off-duty incidents. Heart health is affected by many things — everything from heart defects you’re born with to stress to smoking to excessive use of alcohol or caffeine. But there is another elephant in the room nobody seems to like talking about.

A leading contributor to heart attack is carrying around excess weight, and one of the things law enforcement officers tend to ignore is obesity. As much as we may not like to admit it, we have far too many fat cops out there on the streets. In fact, policing is among the fattest professions in the country (along with clergy, engineers and truckers). The American Journal of Preventative Medicine reported in 2014 that 40 percent of U.S. police officers, firefighters, and security officers are considered obese. Any cop who looks in the mirror with a twinge of regret at what they see should look for advice and inspiration in the story of an officer who dropped more than 150 pounds in the span of a year.

Addressing the Taboo Topic of PTSD
PTSD is an altogether too common affliction among police officers in part because of the things they have to deal with on a day-to-day basis — everything from interviewing underage victims of sexual assault to witnessing the carnage of a violent crime scene. Far too many officers suffer signs of PTSD and fail to seek the treatment they need in order to lead a happier and more fulfilling life.

Far too frequently the subject is only discussed seriously after an officer tragically takes their own life — it is shameful that we then soon set that conversation aside again, letting the topic keep its taboo status. We must destigmatize PTSD and empower officers who may be suffering from it to get assistance. We hope that reading the story of one officer’s fight against PTSD is the impetus for even just one cop in need to step forward and get better.

The Power of the Peer
One way in which we can begin to address all of these issues is to support each other either one-on-one or through agency-funded and organized peer support groups. Although by no means a panacea for all ills, peer support can be a positive first step for an officer in any type of personal crisis, especially those noted above.

Despite the undeniable ‘tough-guy’ mentality that exists in law enforcement culture, there is a tremendous benefit to an officer during times of either professional or personal struggle to connect with specially-trained, volunteer officers within the department for assistance. Even a simple pat on the back can be enough to pick someone up when they’re down. For cops who might require a higher level of training in treatment and care, a volunteer can help an individual connect with the person they feel is most likely to help them — such as a chaplain or a psychologist. The point is to help each other somehow stay in the fight.

What’s Next
In coming weeks, we will examine some of the issues agencies as a whole are facing. Then, a month or two down the road, we’ll examine some of the ways private enterprises serving the police market are working to help law enforcement.

As always, we appreciate your feedback and your ideas, so let us know what you think of the coverage and what else you’d like to know about, by sending us an email or sounding off in the comments section below.

About the author

Doug Wyllie is Editor in Chief of PoliceOne, responsible for setting the editorial direction of the website and managing the planned editorial features by our roster of expert writers. An award-winning columnist — he is the 2014 Western Publishing Association “Maggie Award” winner in the category of Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column — Doug has authored more than 900 feature articles and tactical tips on a wide range of topics and trends that affect the law enforcement community. Doug is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers’ Association (CPOA), and a member of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA). Even in his “spare” time, he is active in his support for the law enforcement community, contributing his time and talents toward police-related charitable events as well as participating in force-on-force training, search-and-rescue training, and other scenario-based training designed to prepare cops for the fight they face every day on the street.

Read more articles by PoliceOne Editor in Chief Doug Wyllie by clicking here.

Contact Doug Wyllie

The following article originally appeared on PoliceOne, the leading online resource for law enforcement, and is reprinted by permission of the PoliceOne editorial team. Visit www.PoliceOne.com to access news, commentary, education information, and training resources that help officers protect their communities and stay safe on the streets.