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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services
The daily stressors of law enforcement professions are easy to list: potentially dangerous work environments, potentially hostile civilians, unpredictable shifts, and the need for constant vigilance. However, a repeated theme in academic research on stressors in law enforcement is that officers report organizational and quality-of-life stressors as more concerning than occupational hazards.1. Law enforcement professionals have the same concerns about buying a house, paying for college, paying down student loans, and retirement as the general population. Many departments choose to include financial counselling as part of their suite of mental health offerings for law enforcement personnel. It can lower stress for professionals and keep them inoculated from regulatory capture.
In the COPS Office publication Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Programs: Eleven Case Studies, researchers noted that eleven organizations surveyed reported providing family and financial counselling serves to employees. Those same researchers reported that, while “personal relationships (between spouses, parents and children, and other family members) are the most commonly seen voluntary counseling requests for service by officers and family members. . . [f]inancial and legal issues are also common areas of vulnerability for which departments are providing counseling and resources to help officers address areas of conflict, stress, or anxiety in their lives.”
At the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, financial counselling is available through the department’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP). “In a survey administered by Dr. Englert, officers reported that financial challenges are a consistent and significant stressor, so the department has hosted a number of peer-led small groups covering financial wellness and additional personal wellness topics. The department has also brought in an out-of-state consultant on four occasions to date. This consultant provides one-on-one financial consultations to officers. After the first visit, the 32 available spots for the second visit filled within one hour of announcing the availability to officers.”
The Indianapolis Police Department (IPD) trains all of its peer support mentors in financial literacy. This is significant, as nearly one in ten IPD officers is trained as a mentor. It also highlights financial literacy as an essential component of Officer Safety and Wellness, drawing on responses to its own internal research on job-related stressors. The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department’s Police Employee Assistance program (PEAP) “offers management consultation, assessments counseling, and referrals for services to employees with personal or work-related concerns such as stress, financial issues, legal issues, family problems, office conflicts, and alcohol and substance abuse issues.” The PEAP also starts work with officers at the academy and supports the officers and family members with training and programming through the career life-cycle of their forces.
Financial stress can also be a barrier to participation in wellness programs. In Charlotte Mecklenburg, the cost of attending EAP counselling sessions clocked in at $70 per session. An interviewee said, “People often don’t understand that officers are not going to spend their emergency fund money on mental health wellness when it’s possible that their children might get sick.” Generally, it is expected that a client will need around twenty-two sessions to complete treatment. The department is currently working on getting access to free treatment for officers. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department offers free counselling services in-house in order to lower financial barriers to entry. While not every department can afford to do so, whenever possible, costs for participation in counseling should be reduced.
Departments looking to support officers should consider including financial literacy training or counseling as part of a holistic wellness approach to Officer Safety and Wellness.
1. P. A. Collins and A. C. C. Gibbs, “Stress in Police Officers: A Study of the Origins, Prevalence and Severity of Stress-Related Symptoms Within a County Police Force,” Occupational Medicine 53 (2003):256–264.
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