Take a moment and think of all the officer safety classes and courses you have taught and attended. Think of all the Officer Safety presentations you sat through and delivered and all the officer safety articles you read over the years.
What type of classes did you think about? Was it vehicles stops, control tactics, ground fighting, edged weapons defense, defeating violent attacks and tactical communications?
Were any of the classes you thought of classes on fitness, nutrition, resilience, sleep and emotional wellness?
As a profession we need to start thinking of Wellness as an Officer Safety issue. Officer Safety programs center around the mission of recognizing, controlling and defeating threats to ensure officers can go home to their families at the end of the shift.
Those programs and classes we typically imagine as ‘Officer Safety’ programs are critical to that mission and I have spent much of the last 27 years teaching those classes. The time has come however, for all of us to expand our thinking of Officer Safety to include all aspects of wellness.
For too long we have separated wellness from tactics and considered wellness as “fluff stuff” and “soft skills”, and we have paid a terrible price for that attitude. We have paid a price with our relationships, our health and our lives.
The single biggest killer of law enforcement personnel in North America is law enforcement personnel in North America taking their own lives.
“Suck it up and soldier on” is a mentality that has destroyed a lot of good officers and is killing us. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of strength and courage. In the US law enforcement officers kill themselves at 3 to 4 times the rate that violent criminals kill them. In Canada in 2015 police officers killed themselves at 5 times the rate that violent criminals killed them and that trend is continuing in 2016.
Wellness however, is more that just mental health and dealing with PTSD.
Wellness includes heart health, sleep issues, nutrition and fitness, all of which are connected.
Of the 132 law enforcement line of duty deaths in North America in 2015, 18 of them were heart attack deaths. According to Dr. Jonathan Sheinberg, a cardiologist and Lieutenant with the Cedar Park Police Department in Texas, if we extended collection of line of duty death data to include 24 hours a day, heart attacks would be number one or two leading causes of death in Law enforcement officers. What Jon means by that is there are not a lot of officers that die in gunfights on their days off, but there are a significant number of officers who die of heart attacks within hours of their shift, or in the middle of days off. (If you are going to ILEETA make sure to attend Jon’s session on heart health in the profession.)
Dr. Charles Samuels from the Sleep Institute in Calgary and Dr. Brian Vila from Washington State University are doing some important work to address the fatigue issue in law enforcement and suggest. Their research suggests law enforcement personnel are chronically sleep deprived. That constant state of sleep deprivation is directly linked to the cardiac issues Jon Sheinberg talks about as well as our weight issues, Type 2 diabetes issues and other chronic heath issues. Sleep deprivation also impacts the decision making abilities of law enforcement professionals in the field.
It is not enough to survive a career, you need to thrive in your career and in your post career years.
It is not enough to say, “I will do what it takes to go home at the end of my shift.” That is an honorable goal but, if when you get home you are constantly tired, angry, or depressed and fight with your spouse, yell at your children or engage in inappropriate coping strategies then you may destroy the very thing you work working to go home to.
We can no longer treat wellness as fluff stuff. We need to treat it as an Officer Safety issue.
I challenge you to start shifting your thinking on this issue and think of ways you can incorporate wellness training into your officer safety curriculum, and support those in your agency who are already addressing these issues.
Next week we will explore some possible strategies for addressing these critical issues.
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