Strategies for strengthening police health

While the creation of comprehensive police safety and welfare initiatives has clear benefits, many departments do not know where to start or how to expand their welfare programs. This area needs guidance on how to provide effective support to police officers and non-police personnel who have experienced trauma, in order to promote their long-term physical and mental health, to equip officers with emotional survival skills, and to overcome stigma and other cultural and psychological barriers to seeking treatment.

To meet these needs, in 2017 the Police Research Forum (PERF) was selected by the Office of Community Oriented Police Services (COPS Office) of the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) to implement and manage the police safety and welfare technical assistance project. As part of this project, PERF provided practical support and experience to three law enforcement agencies as they developed or expanded their officer security and welfare programs. This report is based primarily on PERF’s experience with these police agencies.

This publication is intended to provide departments across the country with a roadmap for creating their own wellness programs. The information contained in this professional handbook includes strategies for creating and improving wellness programs, encouraging participation in these programs, and normalizing the routine use of mental wellness services.

The purpose of the report is to provide guidance to law enforcement agencies on how to build and strengthen their welfare programs for their employees. Each chapter of this publication presents conclusions and recommendations on a topic that emerged as a common theme during evaluations. The report’s recommendations reflect the common challenges facing project areas and other law enforcement agencies across the United States.

For example, Chapter 1 discusses the basics of a comprehensive wellness program, including how to identify wellness needs and how to create a wellness committee.  Chapter 2 focuses on the development of programming for different types of well-being, including physical, mental, and emotional, financial, and spiritual well-being. These recommendations include, among others:

  • Evaluate various methods to encourage participation in fitness programs and determine which are most successful with the workforce.
  • Provide training on mental well-being to all new members.
  • Eliminate the stigma associated with mental health care and promote searching for help..
  • Identify and assist police officers who may be in crisis.
  • Create a mentorship program in which veteran officers are assigned to new employees to provide help and serve as a resource during their academic training, field training, and throughout the territory.
  • Train supervisors on how to identify the first indicators of acute stress or mental health issues.
  • Incorporate well-being and resilience into promotional tests to increase supervisor knowledge.
  • Train officers on identifying and resolving ineffective coping behaviours such as alcohol abuse.
  • Assess suicide risks among agents, promote healthy forms of stress control, and provide health strategies to prevent disease.
  • Provide information on financial well-being (e.g. budgets, retirement benefits, and financial savings).


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