By DR. DANNY L. MCGUIRE JR. | Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice at National Louis University, Chicago, Ill.
In today’s society, with ever-changing technological advancements and social media, law enforcement professionals must be aware of their surroundings and, more importantly, their physical and mental well-being. Officer self-awareness is paramount for the success of any law enforcement professional in our society today.
A few years back I was able to create a survey based on information gained while having conversations with officers regarding media coverage of police incidents that had occurred at a national level. These incidents brought police policies and procedures into the forefront.
Many of these discussions illustrated the passion of these law enforcement professionals while they explained introspection through the eyes of the general public. Many felt that media accounts of these interactions viewed all police officers through lenses that painted police procedures and officers with a broad brush of negativity.
The survey responses were quite interesting:
- Over 65 percent of the police officers surveyed reported low morale.
- The majority of the officers reported they did not feel supported by their department administrators or their political leaders.
- Over 55 percent of the officers reported they felt low support from the citizens they serve.
- Over 95 percent of the officers responded that they worry more about their safety at that time more than ever.
- 50 percent of the officers reported they do not tell people they are police officers in social settings while 42 percent said “it depends.”
- Over 50 percent of the respondents reported that they felt “low self-esteem” as it relates to their position as a law enforcement professional.
- Over 80 percent of the respondents reported they felt some concern for the safety of their family because of their position in law enforcement.
- 42 percent of the respondents reported they would leave their current position in law enforcement to “do something else.”
- Over 80 percent of the respondents reported that they felt some worry about using force, even within department guidelines, during their tour of duty.
- Over 70 percent of the officers reported that they had second-guessed themselves within six months of the time of survey.
What are some positive coping mechanisms available?
After examining the officers’ responses and inquiring with some follow-up conversations, investigation of positive coping strategies began. It was imperative that law enforcement professionals were aware of positive responses for their own physical and mental well-being.
Some of the successful positive coping strategies that officers had reported and recommended were a peer support program, professional counseling or an employee assistance program, nutrition or a personal trainer, Reiki, hypnosis and mediation.
Peer support is a program that sees officers from within their police department or surrounding areas trained by professionals to assist their fellow officers when required. For example, on many occasions someone may have reported that an individual was going through some personal strife such as divorce or special needs family issues. A peer support team member may reach out to that individual to have a conversation or even meet up for a cup of coffee.
At times it is a powerful tool to have someone who may have experienced the same phenomena in your professional work environment, and sharing experiences, as well as positive coping mechanisms, may suffice in helping that individual. Please note that a peer support program does not replace professional counseling or need for advanced mental health treatment. This is simply peer-to-peer support and training is necessary for a team member to understand when a crisis demands professional help.
Professional counseling is another dynamic that is recommended when individuals may have more advanced concerns or peer support does not help. This can also include alcohol and drug rehabilitation as well as issues with anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and/or other types of advanced mental health crises that require the help of a licensed professional. Many officers have reported that their department offered an “employee assistance program.” This program was free for department members to utilize when suffering from mental health crises.
Many officers reported that one of their positive coping strategies was working out at a health club or with a personal trainer. Some officers reported that, in conjunction with working out, they utilize the services of a nutritionist who helps them balance their diet. This was a very popular response, and a few officers even reported that their department provided facilities and services.
Some officers reported that they had utilized meditation as part of a daily regiment whether it was religious-based or just part of a routine. Others had stated that the use of hypnosis from a certified professional had helped them with issues of anxiety and some post-traumatic stress related disorders. There were also officers who shared that they utilize the services of a Reiki healer on a regular basis to help them align their chakras.
People handle negativity and stress differently. In addition, resiliency and coping skills are different from person to person. Police officers and law enforcement professionals are no exception. As a department administrator or village leader, it is important to ensure that officers’ physical and mental well-being are primary. Having systems in place such as a solid peer support program, employee assistance program or other avenues for stress relief, such as a workout facility within department headquarters, will assist officers with stress release and anxiety prevention.
Professionalism is vital in the law enforcement community. We are held to higher standards as we have sworn an oath to serve and protect our communities. Having healthy professionals is imperative to the success of your organization and the safety of your municipality and its citizenry.
Dr. Danny L. McGuire Jr. is currently an assistant professor of criminal justice at National Louis University, Chicago, Ill., with over 20 years of law enforcement experience. McGuire earned a bachelor of science and law enforcement management from Calumet College of St. Joseph, a masters of counseling psychology from the Adler School of Professional Psychology, a doctorate of education emphasis on ethical leadership from Olivet Nazarene University and, in May 2018, will complete a masters of public administration from Clemson University. McGuire has been trained by Chicago Police Department crisis intervention team and peer support team. McGuire can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.