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December 2020 | Volume 13 | Issue 12

In an ongoing effort to keep a finger on the pulse of officer experiences in the field, the National Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) routinely engages in surveys of its national membership of more than 356,000 to gauge the impacts of issues relevant for the profession. Most recently, the National FOP gathered preliminary data that reveals the impact policing during the COVID-19 pandemic may have on law enforcement wellness now and well into the future. Through the Collaborative Reform Initiative Technical Assistance Center (CRI-TAC), the National FOP has been able to share insights and recommendations for best practices moving forward regarding wellness and policing during a pandemic.

Not surprisingly, the pandemic has created additional stress beyond the traditional levels felt by officers and deputies, with almost 80 percent of survey respondents reporting their stress levels were slightly or much higher during the pandemic than pre-pandemic levels. The two greatest sources of increased stress were (1) fear of infecting family members or loved ones with the virus and (2) increased enforcement of restrictions on the public. Approximately two-thirds of survey respondents also perceive that their families have suffered slightly to much higher levels of stress related to the officer’s work during the pandemic.

In November, the CRI-TAC brought together subject matter experts from the National Sheriffs’ Association, the National FOP, and the Metropolitan Nashville (Tennessee) Police Department to present to agencies, and individual officers, and deputies specialized strategies for coping and adapting to policing during this time. In a virtual webinar format, presenters explored common reactions to stress and discussed ways the pandemic may make for an even more challenging environment than normal. Information was provided on structuring agency and individual responses to the pandemic, and examples were given on how to establish effective support programs within an agency.

Guided by the idea of likening the pandemic to a protracted critical incident, presenters provided strategies to better enable law enforcement agencies to support, monitor, and evaluate their personnel during periods of added stress. For example, they recommended that agencies establish multifaceted and diverse support services, recognizing that each individual officer will respond differently but all need and acquire support in different ways. As stress is also cumulative and the duration of pandemic effects increases, agencies should be prepared to deliver support services not only during the pandemic period but into the future as well. Given the impact on families, agencies should seek to educate not only their staff but also their families not only about the potential physical effects of the pandemic but also about added stressors and potential mental health impacts.

As the law enforcement profession navigates the challenges of the pandemic and other trends, monitoring the wellness of personnel and their families will remain important. Law enforcement agencies should seek to be agile at identifying officers who may be struggling with additional challenges related to the pandemic. For example, how has the single parent whose child cannot physically attend school because of restrictions been impacted?

While most agencies have been vigilant about monitoring their officers’ physical health during the pandemic, agencies should also take equal care to monitor the mental health of personnel as stress levels increase. Turning again to data gathered by the National FOP, considerably more than half of officers and deputies felt positive about the level of support their agency provided regarding physical dangers of the pandemic and with the provision of adequate PPE. However, barely a third felt the same level of support from their agency regarding increased mental and emotional stresses related to the pandemic. Thus, law enforcement agencies should be mindful to conduct ongoing evaluations of support services, ensuring that interventions serve to maximally impact maintenance and improvement of officer and deputy mental health now and into the future.

Learn More

To learn more about the CRI-TAC, download a brochure, or request assistance for your agency, visit the CRI-TAC website.

Sherri Martin, National Director of Wellness Services
National Fraternal Order of Police

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