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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services
With the holiday season coming to a close, it’s not unusual to feel some relief from the stress and long hours that accompany the weeks of celebration and welcome a little restorative down time. Adequate sleep is critical to all of our mental and physical health, and most of us who need it can work it into our schedules.
However, making time for extra sleep is very difficult for law enforcement officers, who often work long hours and rotating shifts and as a result are among the most sleep-deprived workers in our country. Sleep deprivation is very serious and could pose a threat to our officers’ safety and wellness—as well as to the public at large.
Sleep deprivation can lead to a wide variety of physical, mental, and psychological problems, including depression and impaired judgement. This can cause a host of serious problems. According to the Officer Down Memorial Page, 26 officers died in squad car crashes in 2018, accidents in which lack of sleep may have played a role. Fatigue can be a factor in other variety of tragic outcomes as well, ranging from ambushes of officers to misjudgments in use of force situations.
To address sleep deprivation and other threats to the health and safety of the nation’s federal, state, local, and tribal police officers, Congress passed the Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Act (LEMHWA) in 2018. In response, the COPS Office published two complementary reports in April of 2019: Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Act: Report to Congress and Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Programs: Eleven Case Studies.
The 11 case studies in the second publication detail the innovative practices of 10 police departments and a private peer support program for officers and their families. Among them was the Bend (Oregon) Police Department, which is featured in this issue of the Dispatch because of the success of its approaches to safeguarding the mental as well as physical health of its officers, especially those focused on fatigue and stress reduction.
As the article points out, fatigue is an especially serious problem for our nation’s first responders, many of whom work on rotating and night shifts. In addition to being possibly being less alert in dangerous situations, night shift officers are not only more vulnerable to stroke, diabetes, coronary problems, and other diseases, but also prone to becoming irritable and depressed.
The COPS Office has been dedicated to reducing the incidence of these health and wellness problems since 2011 through its establishment of, and participation in, the National Officer Safety and Wellness (OSW) Group, which brings together representatives from law enforcement, federal agencies, and the research community to address critical health issues.
This year, in support of LEMHWA, we are making more than $2 million in grant funding available to support mental health and wellness services for law enforcement through training and technical assistance, demonstration projects, and implementation of promising practices related to peer mentoring mental health programs.
With the passage of LEMHWA, Congress took an important step toward increasing awareness and reducing the incidence of emotional and psychological problems among our nation’s more than 800,000 federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement officers. And we at the COPS Office are honored to be playing a role in furthering the goals of that act.
As Dr. John Violanti—a research professor of epidemiology and environmental health at the University at Buffalo School of Public Health and Health Professions—has pointed out, more than one-third of officers suffer from some symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, and about 10 percent have a “very high rate” of it. As a result, he says that compared to the general population, law enforcement officers have a 54 percent greater chance of dying from suicide.
Most officers don’t let on about their suffering; they may even be ashamed of it. But with the passage of LEMWHA, the reports from the COPS Office, and the available funding, we have a good chance of reaching them.
– Director Keith
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