By Katie Marston, Special Advisor, Federal Bureau of Investigation, IACP Visiting Fellow; and Rebecca McClelland, Project Manager, Officer Safety and Wellness Initiatives, IACP
fficer safety and wellness has always been a priority for the IACP; the organization believes that no injury to or death of a law enforcement professional is acceptable. The strong leadership displayed by the association’s members for the concern and well-being of their officers uniquely positions the IACP to address officer safety and wellness. The IACP is well positioned to provide guidance to law enforcement leadership in protecting their most important asset—their people.
This culture of safety and wellness has led to many projects and initiatives over IACP’s 120-year history, and almost all IACP projects and services have an officer safety and/or wellness component. Recently, several larger efforts have been made to address safety and wellness. In 2009, the IACP conducted a year-long study of officer injuries, with the goal to develop practical resources to assist law enforcement agencies in responding to officer injury vulnerabilities. This led to the establishment of the IACP National Center for the Prevention of Violence Against the Police in 2010. The purpose of this center is to provide guidance to law enforcement agencies on how to prevent felonious assaults.
Today, the IACP recognizes a need for a broader mission in addressing officer safety and wellness, beyond violence and injuries, to include a focus on officers’ overall well-being. Additionally, the number of incidents related to officer safety and wellness has magnified in recent years, increasing the need for one voice to arm the law enforcement community with the tools and resources it needs to protect its officers.
The Vision of the Center for Officer Safety and Wellness
The leadership of IACP has identified the need to strengthen its approach to officer safety and wellness and create a one-stop shop that serves as a resource for the law enforcement community, the Center for Officer Safety and Wellness (the Center). The Center’s vision is to ensure the safety and wellness of officers, thereby ensuring secure and thriving communities. The Center takes a proactive approach to safety and wellness by providing guidance on preventing harmful situations and creating a healthy lifestyle. Through strong engagement with IACP membership, the Center identifies the most pressing wellness issues and safety challenges facing officers. The Center addresses these needs and provides tools for leaders to prepare their officers, serving as an agent for positive change in the law enforcement community.
The Mission of the Center for Officer Safety and Wellness
The Center takes a holistic approach to officer wellness by addressing the challenges in policing at all stages of an officer’s lifecycle, including recruitment, early career, advanced career, and retirement. The mission of the Center is to instill a culture of safety and wellness in international law enforcement throughout this lifecycle The Center serves as a thought leader in synthesizing wellness information into the tools and resources that will affect a cultural mind-set change toward wellness throughout an officer’s lifecycle.
Lifecycle Approach to Wellness
The Center for Officer Safety and Wellness focuses on the four key stages of an officer’s career. Each of these lifecycle stages presents unique challenges to maintaining officer safety and wellness.
Recruitment. The recruitment stage in an officer’s lifecycle encompasses that period from the decision to enter law enforcement to academy graduation. In addressing the recruitment stage, the Center focuses on preparing future officers for the challenges inherent in law enforcement, while raising awareness of the potential stress that the commitment to a law enforcement career can bring.
IACP’s Discover Policing is an example of a current initiative to address the recruitment lifecycle stage. DiscoverPolicing.org is the cornerstone of a nationwide initiative to market the benefits of careers in law enforcement to a broad and diverse audience. Through a clear and accurate portrayal of the full range of police service opportunities, IACP is reframing the image of policing, expanding the pool of applicants, and providing an effective means for candidates and hiring agencies to connect. The IACP’s Discover Policing Mentoring Program is a great way for current and future law enforcement professionals to connect and establish relationships that foster personal and professional growth and development.
Early Career. During the early career stage it is an essential stage to focus on equipping officers with the tools and resources to help establish and maintain their mental and physical wellness throughout their careers. This lifecycle stage begins after recruitment and lasts through the early years of a law enforcement career. It serves as the foundation for a successful officer, and in turn, safe and thriving communities. During the early career stage, important safe and healthy lifestyle habits are formed, ingrained, and later built upon. The IACP National Law Enforcement Policy Center has more than 120 different policies, including several documents on topics relating directly to officer safety and wellness. These include Post-Shooting Personnel Support, Critical Incident Stress Management, Body Armor, Line-of-Duty Deaths and Serious Injuries, and Employee Mental Health Services.
The Center for Social Media provides information and resources to allow law enforcement agencies to use social media tools more effectively and safely. It has also developed a one-page fact sheet focused on officer safety considerations when using social media platforms. The National Data Exchange (N-DEx) Program enables local, state, tribal, and federal law enforcement agencies to search, link, analyze, and share data and detect relationships between people, property, places, and crime characteristics. Through this sharing, officers are better informed and able to stay safer in the line of duty.
The IACP’s Police Response to Violence Against Women Project focuses on the development of tools and policies to assist law enforcement in responding effectively to human trafficking, sexual assault, domestic violence by police officers, and domestic violence and all other crimes against women. By better understanding effective response techniques, officers are better equipped to keep themselves safe in these often dangerous situations. These are just a small sample of the programs and services the IACP has available to assist in this early career stage. For more information on specific programs, visit the IACP website, www.theiacp.org.
Advanced Career. The Center will focus on maintaining the wellness of officers as they progress in their careers and provide resources to them. While many potential challenges remain the same from the earlier into the later stages of a law enforcement career, there are also new issues facing officers as their personal and professional lives become more complex. Through initiatives on executive leadership training, fitness and nutrition programs, family counseling, and depression and mental health, the Center focuses on keeping officers well and in the best possible condition to protect their communities. For example, the Prevention of Violence Against the Police is a Center program that addresses the advanced career phase as well as the early career phase of the officer lifecycle. The mission of this initiative is to prevent felonious assaults against law enforcement through the timely development and dissemination of actionable information within the wider context of IACP’s officer safety initiatives. The initiative’s operations focus on conducting research and analyses, translating the findings into actionable information, and disseminating recommendations to the field. Similarly, the goals of the Reducing Officer Injury initiative are to identify and document the cause and magnitude of officer injuries, develop practical resources to assist law enforcement agencies, identify and respond to officer injury vulnerabilities, and disseminate the resources widely to the law enforcement community.
Many helpful officer wellness tools have also come from the IACP’s Alzheimer’s Initiative. With more than 5.4 million Americans currently living with Alzheimer’s disease and approximately 500,000 new cases of this disease emerging each year, projections pronounce that there will be as many as 16 million Americans that will have Alzheimer’s by 2050.1 To help law enforcement protect this population, IACP’s Alzheimer’s Initiatives program is committed to helping first responders improve their knowledge and skills to safeguard this special population and keep themselves safe during these interactions.
The Center will also be addressing law enforcement suicide and prevention through cultural change. The IACP is holding a symposium this summer, with the objective to develop a set of policy recommendations that will increase the capability of police, working closely with the other disciplines, to create a culture within law enforcement that addresses mental health issues at early stages thus reducing and preventing future officer suicides. Finally, the work of IACP’s committees and sections bring together individuals from different areas of the law enforcement profession. These focused efforts result in numerous products and programs that better serve the field and work to keep officers safe.
Retirement. Law enforcement is a lifelong commitment and the Center for Officer Safety and Wellness tackles that transition from day-to-day policing into retirement. Maintaining wellness will be crucial for officers during this life change, and the Center stays with officers throughout this phase in life. Through tools and resources on such topics as financial guidance, tips on aging, and family support—all geared toward law enforcement—IACP ensures that officers continue to be healthy contributors to communities all over the world.
IACP offers participation in the Retired Chiefs of Police Section, which is comprised of chiefs serving as active IACP members at the time of their retirement. The section convenes on issues facing officers entering retirement, as well as advice and perspectives from lessons learned from earlier days in their careers. Retired law enforcement members can also provide more direct mentoring through IACP’s Discover Policing Mentor Center and the New Police Chief Mentoring Project. As the Center moves forward, there will be a focus on developing resources to address the challenges in transitioning into this important lifecycle stage.
How Can You Contribute?
To support the mission of the Center for Officer Safety and Wellness, IACP will continue to call upon its members to provide recommendations, best practices, and first-hand experiences to share with the law enforcement community. IACP will solicit the best information, tools, and resources and bring them to members’ attention. The Center will also routinely survey members’ priorities related to protecting their officers and work to fulfill their most pressing safety and wellness needs.
Please contact the Center at email@example.com if you have officer wellness best practices to share or have a specific safety and wellness topic that you would like addressed. Additional information on the Center for Officer Safety and Wellness is available at www.theiacp.org/officersafety. ♦
1“IACP’s Alzheimer’s Initiative,” IACP, www.theiacp.org/About/Governance/Divisions/StateAssociationsofChiefsofPoliceSACOP/CurrentSACOPProjects/MissingAlzheimersDiseasePatientInitiative/tabid/897/Default.aspx (acessed April 18, 2013).
Please cite as:
Katie Marston and Rebecca McClelland, "Center for Officer Safety and Wellness," The Police Chief 80 (May 2013): 24–25.