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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services

145 N Street, N.E.
Washington, DC 20530

May 2021 | Volume 14 | Issue 5

Few careers pose as many challenges to an individual’s mental health and sense of well-being as law enforcement does. Though the rewards of serving the community are great, so too are the physical and psychological demands.

It’s no secret that police officers and sheriffs’ deputies are more likely to succumb to substance abuse1, depression, and even suicide2 than members of any other professional group. But what isn’t well known is how to identify such problems, which are not always apparent, and turn them around in the most effective way.

An Officer Readiness Assessment Tool with Wellness Solutions

Photo Courtesy of CNA

To address this situation and provide data-driven solutions, CNA, a nonprofit research and analysis organization, worked with PRO Wellness Services’ team of mental health, physical fitness, and law enforcement subject matter experts to develop the Officer Readiness Assessment (ORA) tool.

Designed to enable agency leaders to get a clear picture of the agency’s wellness support system's strengths and weaknesses in key areas of mental, physical, social, financial, tactical, and spiritual wellness, the ORA tool provides a foundation for the development of programs that can optimize employee health, wellness, and performance.

The first component of the five-step Performance Recovery and Optimization (PRO) integrated wellness program, the ORA tool combines users’ assessment results with employee input to develop an agency-wide wellness optimization plan. To implement the plan, the agency is connected with corresponding resources vetted by the program’s developers and other specialists.

Based On Research and Proven Best Practices

The ORA’s questions, which address factors critical to the success of a law enforcement wellness program, are based on research into best practices. This research includes interviews with industry subject matter experts as well as a comprehensive review of the Psychological Skills Inventory (PSI) for Law Enforcement, a survey conducted by Dr. William Land with the University of Texas at San Antonio and funded by an Advancing 21st Century Policing Initiative grant from the COPS Office. It was administered to 1,059 law enforcement officers in 2018–2019 to determine which skills were most used by officers, which led to resiliency, and what events impacted their levels of satisfaction in both work and life.

After a member of the agency’s leadership team completes the assessment, PRO Wellness Services will provide an Executive Results Report that includes scores in each key area along with an overview of the agency’s strengths and opportunities for growth.

A Holistic Program Adaptable to Each Agency’s Needs

Six Critical Areas of Support

The ORA tool evaluates agency strength in the following areas:

  1. Mental. Support related to the psychological needs of law enforcement and availability of occupation-specific mental health resources to optimize job performance
  2. Physical. Nutritional guidance and access to occupation-specific exercise and training to optimize job performance, reduce risk of injury, and improve overall health
  3. Social. Development of structured, productive social support systems within the agency including training, peer support, and family assistance programs
  4. Spiritual. Support for the development of a winning mindset and sense of purpose, mitigating burnout, and incorporating chaplain services
  5. Financial. Programs to help employees and their families manage their finances by learning key, practical, and sustainable financial management skills
  6. Tactical. Support for officer proficiency, training, or other programs to optimize academy and in-service training to help officers uphold agency protocols in all situations

According to Dr. Brandi Burque-DeCarlo, CEO of PRO Wellness Services, and Mandy Nice, the National Strength and Conditioning Association Tactical Program Manager, “We developed the ORA tool because we saw a need for a holistic program that could not only identify the unique needs that each police department has, but can indicate areas of support which can be strengthened to address them.”

“These are not always obvious,” Dr. Burque-DeCarlo adds. “Most people recognize the signs of suicidal depression, for instance, but the root cause is often related to financial or relationship problems. Depression can also result from a lack of physical energy and strength. But if those needs can be addressed early on, we can help save officers from ever reaching the point of suicidal depression. Our program explores all areas of departmental wellness support and offers a wide variety of evidence-proven resources to strengthen them,” she says. “Depending on the agency’s needs and preferences, we can provide guidance on officer nutrition, sleep optimization, physical fitness, financial management, and other concerns.”

Employee Input Enhances Engagement and Program Success

By including input from employees as well as command staff throughout the process of planning, developing, and implementing a wellness program, the program can build agency-wide synergy and pave the way for success.

Accordingly, PRO Wellness Services organizes the ORA findings into an Executive Results Report so that command staff can easily see, discuss, and decide on the agency’s top wellness needs.

After receiving command staff’s report, PRO Wellness Services lists the needs they have determined to be most important in an Employee Wellness Interest Survey. Employees use the survey to share their opinions about which should be prioritized.

This process can boost morale—and, by demonstrating that the agency values their input, increase employee engagement in new wellness programs. Says CNA Research Scientist Tammy Felix, “This is one of best aspects of the program. Including employee input makes it truly comprehensive.”

By combining the results of the employee survey with those of the Executive Results Report, the PRO Wellness Services’ team of subject matter experts—including law enforcement veterans, physical fitness experts, and psychologists, among others—collaborates with the agency to create an effective, efficient plan that fits the agency’s needs, size, budget, culture, and preferences.

A Customized Implementation Plan and Affordable Resources

This customized agency wellness plan can be implemented on site or virtually (or both), with employee wellness training provided by PRO Wellness and nonprofit partner organizations.

“Train the trainer” programs can also be provided for academy or in-service instructors who would like to use the user-friendly curriculum in their classes. “Our approach is adaptable,” says Dr. Burque-DeCarlo. “We listen to the agency’s needs and provide corresponding guidance with proven resources.”

“We also offer information about grants and other funding opportunities to make the program accessible to agencies of all sizes and financial means,” adds Felix.

Says Dr. Burque-DeCarlo, “The public wants our officers to be ready to handle any situation on the streets. That requires not only tactical skills, but physical fitness, mental health, and emotional equilibrium. We created this program to help all agencies provide the best possible support for these qualities -- which can enhance sworn and non-sworn employee performance, job satisfaction, departmental efficiency, and community relations as well.”

Faye C. Elkins
Sr. Technical Writer
COPS Office




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