(with Lieutenant David Hofmann, Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, Office of Professional Development and Police Wellness)

Part I | Part II

(Author’s note: It is not the intention of this article or the author to compare officers who fail to complete their careers due to professional failure (i.e. intentional acts such as criminal activity or repeated violations of polices or procedures) with officers facing serious psychological or emotional challenges. Violating one’s sworn oath by committing a criminal act is complicit while suicide involves an element of mental distress. The use of the words “fail” and “failure” are used only to describe an officer’s inability to complete his or her career in a healthy condition, and the failure of agencies to provide the means and resources to assist officers to achieve self-actualization in their personal and professional lives. The authors sympathize with the families, friends and peers of every officer we lose during the police journey). 

The philosophy of the development and wellness program requires the agency to first commit to a practice of organizational resiliencyOrganizational resiliency is an acknowledgement by the agency that its employees are the most valuable assets of the organization. Organizational resiliency requires a methodology and a commitment from the leaders of the agency to assist officers to reach their personal and professional potential through wellness and early intervention and developmental and educational programs designed to promote individual resiliency.  Individual resiliency is the “bulletproofing” of an officer- personally and professionally- throughout his or her career, through (1) the practicing of healthy habits, (2) making quality choices, and (3) establishing life control in the five core distress areas defined by the IMPD Office of Professional Development and Police Wellness. The five core areas where most officers fail, as defined by three years of research and over 300 officer interventions by IMPD are addictive issues, behavioral health, physical health, personality issues and family-relationship. 

The five core areas where most officers fail, as defined by three years of research and over 300 officer interventions by IMPD are addictive issues, behavioral health, physical health, personality issues and family-relationship.

Addictive issues experienced by IMPD officers are the substance addictions of alcohol, opiates, other prescription and illegal drugs, and the process addictions of gambling, sex and pornography. Behavioral health issues include anxiety, depression, Bi-polar Disorder, and severe cases of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Physical healthissues involve weight, diet and exercise challenges and pain management and sleep disorders. Personality issuesattributable to officers are Narcissistic Personality Disorder, impulsivity, immaturity, victim-thinking, and anger and control issues. Family-Relationship issues involve toxic and dysfunctional relationships including marriage, divorce, custody, parental issues and financial distress.

Organizational and individual resiliency was first addressed by IMPD through ongoing annual training and education for the department instructed by the Office of Professional Development and Officer Wellness. The initial round of training was provided for supervisors on topics of proper discipline, recognizing signs of performance and personal distress and responding proactively with a remediation or intervention plan referral to the development and wellness unit. Following the supervisory training, instruction was provided to the entire department on the five core distress issues; the aspects of voluntary, supervisory and peer referrals; and how to best utilize resources available through the program to promote personal and professional health.

During ongoing training, IMPD’s developmental programs were introduced to promote the personal and professional growth of its officers. A primary development program for IMPD was the creation of one of the few formal all-volunteer police mentoring programs in the profession. To date more than 70 mentors have been trained from within IMPD and from outside agencies that refer officers to the IMPD development and wellness program. Mentors are selected from applicants who display a history of healthy personal and professional habits and choices and/or those officers who have overcome a distress issue and provide a quality example of career and personal perseverance.

The IMPD My Legacy Mentoring Program© has further expanded into specialized groups within the mentoring program to include military veterans paired with other military veterans, and other pairings that address issues unique to diverse officer backgrounds. Mentors are matched to applicants, recruits, veteran officers and to any officer who requests a mentor based on a confidential profile completed by the mentors and their mentees. The philosophy of the IMPD mentoring program is that mentoring is different from peer support or field training in that mentoring is a long-term peer relationship aimed at assisting officers to navigate challenges in their personal and professional lives in the core distress areas throughout their career and not just in the aftermath of critical incident or personal crisis.

In an effort to keep peer support officers and mentors current in law enforcement distress issues and to provide ongoing resource information and contacts, the development and wellness office conducts an 8 hour wellness symposium each spring and fall for mentors, peer support officers, FTO’s, and officers involved in negotiation, critical incident management and supervision.  It then connects officers with experts in the law enforcement field and outside professional resources in recognized areas of distress, i.e., sleep issues, finances, relationships, behavioral issues, mental health, mind fitness, etc. It is not expected that officers attending the symposium would become experts in addressing distress issues, however through the symposium mentors, peer support officers and supervisors become familiar with the latest developments in core distress area response. Participants are able to interact with a network of professional resources and contacts cultivated and secured by the office of development and wellness to help assist officers to become resilient.

The unique aspect of the development and wellness office that separates its mission from other organizational human resource, behavioral or wellness programs is that its definition of wellness goes beyond the annual physical check up or referral to EAP as a default response to officer crisis. The IMPD Office of Professional Development and Police Wellness case manages the officer throughout the officer’s distress through professional referral, duty status adjustment and assignment, and return to work coordination and monitoring. Originally staffed only with a merit police captain, the office has expanded to include the captain, 2 sergeants and a patrol officer, who perform all the voluntary interventions, disciplinary remediations, family, spousal and in-service training, and manage the mentoring program and semi-annual wellness symposiums for the entire agency.

Another area key to the success of the development and wellness program is a commitment to confidentiality and continued development and coordination of resources. Recognizing the importance of patient confidentiality the unit coordinates and communicates with clinicians and other professionals (and with the officer’s chain-of- command) to ensure the officer returns to work successfully and receives the support necessary to avoid getting “lost in the shuffle” or “falling between the cracks.” In return, the officer is made accountable to the agency through various recovery benchmarks.

Officers who are referred by peers, supervisors or who are voluntary entry’s into the program are requested, but not mandated, to provide written consent as documented by a signed “Release of Information Form.” This consent allows the development and wellness office to communicate and coordinate an organizational response plan on behalf of the officer with outside resources. Officers who are mandatory entry’s into the program due to a performance or disciplinary failure are required to comply with any and all aspects of the remediation including consent. Whether voluntary or mandatory, or consent required or not required, all clinical sessions and personal disclosures remain confidential. Supervisors in the officer’s chain-of-command are updated regularly on the progress of the officer’s health or return to work status, but are not informed of any confidential personal disclosures regardless of voluntary or mandatory status. Information is released on a need-to-know basis and is limited to information necessary to accomplish workplace accommodation.

While the interaction between the IMPD Office of Professional Development and Police Wellness and the officers who voluntarily participate in the program is confidential, during the three years of operation, statistical data has been compiled that offers a clear picture of the core areas of officer distress as defined earlier. Although an understanding of the law enforcement experience and its relationship to officer distress and failure is only recently coming to light, the IMPD Office of Development and Wellness is spearheading efforts to extrapolate program data in an effort to help educate agencies to hire the “ideal” candidate and to understand how the core distress areas impact an officer throughout their career. This body of data will help agencies to avoid hiring future Dorner’s and Volpe’s and to avoid losing officers to distress issues during their careers in organizations where comprehensive support programs do not exist.

For officers already ensconced within the fabric of the agency, the development and wellness program exists to intervene before a distress issue grows into a disciplinary action, separation, termination, or tragedy. After formal intervention is attempted, should it become necessary to initiate action against an officer, it can be accomplished by the agency with compassion and formalized accountability, and with the knowledge every resource was utilized on the officer’s behalf to avoid professional failure. Simultaneous to wellness intervention, developmental programs are utilized to develop officers both personally and professionally throughout their career, acknowledging that even in the absence of degrading performance pattern, personal and career malaise can be crippling to the officer and the organization.

Organizational and individual resiliency must be in equal parts compassionate and accountable; law enforcement agencies are equally as responsible for guiding their employees as employees are to be accountable to the organization and the citizens they serve. For police departments to be resilient, they must acknowledge the fact that their officers are their organization’s most valuable assets. Equally as compelling is officers must not view their employment tenure as an entitlement. The agency and the officer must be equal partners in commitment to personal and professional development and wellness and the reputation and success of the organization. This can only be accomplished through agencies coordinating with officers and their unions before crisis occurs to create a plan for a development and wellness methodology and to assemble the necessary network of appropriate resources. It is also accomplished by developing an understanding of our professional core areas of distress and the relationship of distress to historical failures in the hiring process and the inability to accomplish officer actualization.

Through commitment to effective hiring, proactive officer development and wellness, and case management, organizational and individual resiliency can be accomplished.  If organizational and individual resiliency becomes part of an agency’s culture, the organization will reduce officer failure in their organization, ensure increased personal success and career actualization, all the while reducing agency liability and risk.

Captain Brian Nanavaty is a thirty- year veteran of law enforcement, former Deputy Chief of police, and former adjunct faculty at Indiana and Purdue Universities. Nanavaty created and commands the Office of Wellness and Development at IMPD. He is an instructor for the Legal and Liability Risk Management Institute at PATC and instructs at ILEETA and other various leadership academies and conferences on the topics of police leadership, individual and organizational resiliency, officer development and wellness, and hiring Generation Y. He has recently been featured on PoliceOne.com

Lieutenant David Hofmann is a 16 year veteran of IMPD and worked in the Office of Professional Development and Officer Wellness from 2010-2013. A 2012 graduate of the FBINA Session 250, he is currently assigned to the Operations Division of IMPD.

For further information on Police Resiliency or IMPD development, wellness and mentoring programs, contact Captain Nanavaty at the PATC at 1.800.365.0119 or at [email protected] or [email protected].

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