THE FAMILY IS VITAL TO EFFECTIVE OFFICER WELL-BEING STRATEGIES
BY MICHAEL CUMMINS
Law Enforcement agencies can help build an organizational culture focused on officer well-being by including family members in their approach
An effective strategy for law enforcement agencies designed to focus on the well-being of officers and promote a healthy workplace is to provide the tools, resources and communication outreach which takes into account the importance of the officer’s family. The implications of the challenges associated with working in law enforcement go far beyond those associated with just the individual officer. Those surrounding the affected officer at work and at home are profoundly impacted by the shift work, long hours, stress, disturbing situations, frustration, sadness, disappointment, anger and even financial hardship which can be experienced by law enforcement officers during the course of their careers. “As the police socialization process evolves over the years and hypervigilance becomes the normal perceptual set for police officers, the police family does not go unscathed” (Gilmartin, 1990). Dealing with an officer struggling with the burdens associated with law enforcement work can ultimately affect the workplace performance of others and can lead to absenteeism, lost productivity and a reduction in workforce resiliency as well as adverse consequences with personal relationships, including those at home.
While family members of law enforcement personnel can indeed be negatively affected at times by their loved’ ones career choice, they are also uniquely situated to help prevent the exacerbation of the harmful impacts which can occur. The power of family involvement in promoting positive changes and overall employee well-being is critical since an officer’s family is usually the closest and potentially most meaningful source of support and understanding in their lives. Likewise, it is reasonable to assume that family members of law enforcement personnel who are not afforded access to information and resources related to improving their own resiliency will not be as effective in helping themselves or others when a crisis at home occurs due to the rigors and complexities related to their loved one’s role in law enforcement.
Workforce well-being strategies should recognize and include the importance of spouses, partners, parents, children and friends as well as the impact home life and work life have on each other. Effective tools should be inclusive of the officer’s family and support network, such as communication outreach to the home regarding informational, social and benefits awareness opportunities afforded to family members of the officer. These outreach efforts should inform a law enforcement officer’s family about the availability of the agency’s employee assistance program for their own needs as well as their loved one. It is also notable that training programs such as citizen academies, domestic violence and suicide awareness seminars as well as relationship enhancement, financial responsibility, and retirement planning courses should all be made available to an officer’s spouse or significant other. Ideally, these training and communication opportunities should be made available to family members from the time that an officer is hired by a law enforcement agency all the way through retirement.
Another effective strategy aimed to enhance the well-being of the workforce is to create, train and leverage peer to peer support programs such as chaplaincy, peer support and critical incident response teams which include providing family support as well as officer outreach.
Many law enforcement agencies have witnessed the success of these type of support programs over the years. “Police peer support teams have proven their value and have demonstrated their effectiveness for many years. They have established their place in the police mentality and have become an integral part of many law enforcement agencies” (Digilani, 2017). These peer to peer programs are primarily designed to provide properly trained and qualified support personnel to assist officers contend with the daily stressors as well as traumatic incidents encountered by law enforcement. Fortunately, these programs have helped thousands of officers with personal challenges by providing a caring and compassionate support network of fellow teammates keenly aware of the struggles which accompany law enforcement work. They have also mitigated some of the potential serious consequences of engaging in destructive behaviors through timely referrals to licensed mental health professionals. Agencies should make every effort to afford peer support and chaplaincy services to the family members of all of their officers in order to further magnify the capabilities and reach of these support programs.
“Research has revealed that being a police officer comes with an unknown emotional price” (Warren, 2015). Law enforcement leaders need to acknowledge that in order to contend with the detrimental effects of the profession, unconventional tactics need to be embraced. Accordingly, in order to effectively build an organizational culture focused on officer well-being, agencies must commit to a comprehensive strategy of outreach and communication efforts designed to include the officer’s family in their approach. The stakes have never been higher for law enforcement agencies to improve their methods and tactics regarding strengthening officer wellness and resiliency. While there are multiple ways to bolster workforce vitality and morale, one of the most effective means to create a law enforcement culture centered on officer well-being is the inclusion of an officer’s family in the methodology and support mechanisms designed to provide assistance.
Gilmartin, K. (1990). The brotherhood of biochemistry: its implications for a police career. New York: Basic Books, Inc.
Warren, T. (2015). The effects of frequent exposure to violence and trauma on police officers.
Walden University Scholar Works.
Digilani, J. (2017). Law enforcement peer support team reference and resource manual. Retrieved from www.jackdigliani.com.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Michael Cummins is an Assistant Chief
with the U.S Border Patrol (USBP) where he serves in the Training and Traumatic
Incident Management Division within the Mission Readiness Operations
Directorate at USBP Headquarters in Washington, DC. He most recently
served as the Acting Deputy Chief of Staff for the U.S. Customs and Border
Protection (CBP) Office of Professional Responsibility (formerly Internal Affairs).
Michael has been a member of the CBP National Resiliency Task Force and a
Deputy Commander of the Traumatic Incidents and Events Response (TIER) Team.
Prior to serving in these roles, Michael was an Operations Officer in the
USBP Enforcement Systems Division of the Strategic Planning and Analysis
Directorate at USBP Headquarters. He has also worked as a Border Patrol
field agent and supervisor along the southwest border of the United States in
the Rio Grande Valley Sector and Tucson Sector, the two busiest sectors in the
USBP. Michael has also served in the capacity as a team leader of the CBP
Valor Memorial Committee and the Commander of the Family Support Unit during
Police Week overseeing outreach efforts to the surviving families of CBP's
fallen agents and officers. Michael is an active USBP Chaplain and the
former National Chaplain for USBP as well as a licensed attorney with over
twenty years of legal experience. He is a graduate of the FBI National Academy Session #270.
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