President’s Message: Implementing All Aspects of Officer Safety and Wellness

 

Law enforcement is constantly being challenged to rise to higher levels of performance, crime prevention, and community engagement. None of these objectives can be successfully met or exceeded without a commitment to increasing officer safety and wellness. Our law enforcement officers cannot effectively perform or connect with citizens if there are not safe internal and external environments for them. Officer safety and wellness needs to be a focal point for every agency.

Last year (2016), 144 U.S. officers lost their lives in the line of duty. Forty-six percent of those lost lives were due to gunfire.1 There was an increase in the number of ambush attacks on law enforcement with 21 officers lost, including 5 killed in the July 7 attack in Dallas, Texas—the deadliest attack on law enforcement in the United States since 9/11.2 As of March 30, 2017, there have been 32 U.S. line-of-duty deaths—10 of those deaths were caused by gunfire, and 7 were caused by automobile crashes.3 In January 2017, following the late 2016 ambush attacks on four officers in three states in a 24-hour period, IACP convened a task force of committed law enforcement executives to explore the issue of violence against the police and provide concrete recommendations and resources to prevent further tragedies. These resources, including a blog series, web updates, and training materials, will be rolled out over the next several months.

We must continue to work diligently to promote safer environments, better body armor protection, and increased awareness and education around safe driving. As law enforcement leaders, we play a critical role in instilling and sustaining the best safety practices for our officers. We need to continue to require, educate, and model behavior for our officers to wear their seat belts and body armor and to pay attention while driving.

Another key aspect to keeping officers healthy and safe is supporting their emotional and physical wellness. Every day presents new challenges and new scenarios for an officer. Fitness is a crucial part of an officer’s ability to best perform their duties. The benefits of regular physical activity include a healthier heart, reduced stress, fewer injuries, and better quality sleep. Officers’ mental health is just as vital to their job performance and overall health and well-being as their physical health is. The critical incidents that officers respond to are stressful, as well as physically and mentally demanding, and they often show a dark side of human nature. We must work to continue to build resiliency within our officers to ensure their emotional and mental wellness is maintained.

IACP’s Institute for Community Police Relations’ (ICPR) Advancing 21st Century Policing Initiative, funded by the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office) and in collaboration with CNA, works directly with 15 model law enforcement agencies to document and report on those sites’ progress in implementing the best practices of community policing. Through this program, IACP and CNA are researching the sites’ challenges, concerns, and successes in implementing strong cultures of officer safety and wellness. Each site’s program includes a full-time fitness coordinator, a comprehensive wellness program, a chaplain support program, and a resiliency training program. Through the IACP Blog and other upcoming resources, IACP is highlighting these and other innovative programs to assist departments in utilizing the best programs and practices to maintain safe and healthy officers.

Another step to assist with officer well-being is connecting with officers’ families. As a profession, we should recognize the significant role families and spouses play in keeping our officers both mentally and physically fit. Family members can be the first to notice when an officer is struggling and be a critical support system when he or she experiences mental health challenges. Relatives can help officers realize how important getting support can be and can influence them to access that help. We need to care for our loved ones as they continually support us. It is important to make sure our families have access to information about the profession and the resources to meet their own unique needs, as well as connections with other companions who are dealing with similar issues. The ICPR recently launched a new blog series and resource page for law enforcement spouses, partners, and children. In addition, the Companion Track at the 2017 IACP Annual Conference and Exposition in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, will feature three workshops and a roundtable session to share information with and learn more from our law enforcement families.

Through the ICPR, Center for Officer Safety and Wellness, the Task Force on Violence Against Law Enforcement, and all our programs at the IACP, we work diligently to provide departments with the best tools, knowledge, and support for our officers in the field. As law enforcement leaders, we need to ensure that our officers have the safe work environments, proper equipment, and training needed to keep not only their community safe, but also their colleagues and themselves. Advocating for internal safety and wellness will lead to a healthier and more secure community. If our officers are emotionally, physically, or mentally unwell, we cannot expect them to continue to rise to the increased expectations of the profession. We must always continue to strive toward expanding officer safety and wellness efforts. I urge all of you to assess your practices and programs to ensure that your officers are happy and healthy. ♦

Notes:

1Officer Down Memorial Page (ODMP), “Honoring Officers Killed in 2016.”

2National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, “135 Law Enforcement Officer Fatalities Nationwide in 2016,” news release, December 29, 2016.

3ODMP, “Honoring Officers Killed in 2017.”

 

Please cite as:

Donald W. De Lucca, “Implementing All Aspects of Officer Safety and Wellness,” President’s Message, The Police Chief 84 (May 2017): 6.