After the Webinar: Officer Safety and Wellness in Rapidly Changing Times. Q&A with the Presenters

Webinar presenters Dr. Sara Metz, Nick Metz, Bill Walsh, Sammie Wicks, and Christine Johnson answered a number of your questions after their presentation, Officer Safety and Wellness in Rapidly Changing Times: What Does it Look Like for Officers, Their Families and Agencies?  Here are just a few of their responses.



Audience Question: Do you have a specific needs assessment form or template that you recommend? 

Dr. Sara Metz: It’s a great question. We get asked a lot. We typically will work with an agency to develop one that’s specific to them. There are some standard questions that we use but we really want to first talk to key stakeholders will usually work with an ———, peer support, the leadership team to get a sense of what are some of the specific things that you may be seeing so that we can add that to some of the questions. So, again, the standard questions, and again, they change a little bit, but standard ones that we ask is, will come up with a list of which of these things had been bothering you in the past year. And then also, what sorts of programs would you like to see if we were able to bring additional programming in. And this is really where we have to work with the agency to identify what are things that would be doable. When we did a needs assessment, I think Nick mentioned that we did one with Oklahoma City PD. They had a lot of funding that they were able to get, and they were able to go through and add basically everything on the wish list. Down to getting a therapy dog, they had a family academy created, they increased the resources available in all kinds of different directions. But again, we don’t really standardize that because different size agencies will be able to accomplish different things.


Audience Question: In terms of being able to provide staff and officers for your wellness teams and peer teams, how do you make sure that they have time to support that side of their work, especially since so many agencies are understaffed now?

Bill Walsh: So, what we discussed earlier, our EAP is not staff/police officer, it’s a staff of licensed mental health professionals, counselors, and our police psychologist, is not a police officer either. So, those are two outside resources that were utilized. Police chaplains are another one where it’s not actually police officers. My role at the time, was the Patrol Commander, and also the Health and Wellness Coordinator was to make sure those resources were activated and in place so I could go about doing when I needed to do operationally speaking. We hadn’t had a peer support team set up yet. So, we relied on outside providers, but given the question, if something major were to happen, we’re relying more on contracted EAP, our police psychologist, and our volunteers, like police chaplains for those services as opposed to frontline personnel.


Audience Question: How can leadership help their teams process everything that they lived through and be mentally healthier? 

Nick Metz: I think that’s a really great question. Processing to me is an everyday thing. And so, we’re not asking leaders and supervisors to necessarily be therapists or, for that matter, peer supporters if they’re not peer support. But being able to have those opportunities and make it a practice each day to debrief a situation that occurred the day before, how they responded to a situation, checking in with people. When you make that a routine and it’s a normalized thing, then when and if that big thing happens, now you have to really sort through a lot of different kinds of mess. People are kind of used to that process of being able to be open with one another, and it doesn’t feel so new and overwhelming to them. So again, it’s just a matter of practicing it and normalizing it.


Audience Question: How do you get upper-level management to buy into a full-time wellness unit? How do you find the funds and resources to make it happen? 

Nick Metz: I think, first of all, I would get examples from other agencies around the country that have full-time wellness units. I know that IACP and FOP and others have lists of agencies that have full-time wellness units and get yourself educated on those. If you’re an agency that may not have a budget to actually put somebody in there full-time, but maybe creating a position where someone can do it part-time. At least it sends a message to the troops that wellness is a priority of leadership and of the agency. And that you’re doing whatever you can to make sure that become an everyday thing. It becomes a normalized part of the culture that you see the wellness coordinators walking around where that wellness information is getting out into and not waiting until a crisis occurs, which is, unfortunately, what ends up happening quite a bit.


Audience Question: Can you point me to supporting research on officer wellness, and dealing with traumatic events including impacts of organizational stressors? And Jen emphasized that she’s looking for evidence-based research.

Dr. Sara Metz: I would actually encourage you to reach out to me offline, and we can chat about what specifically you’re looking for and what databases you have available to pull some of that. I would say there was the one that I know it’s publicly available in terms of evidence-based. There was a great study done back in 2018 between the FOP and I think NBC resources also jumped in. And that was a really great study. They studied over 8,000 officers, I believe, across the country to look at why are the sorts of things that actually are bothering officers. What are some of the resources that are the most helpful? I think that is a public-facing research study, that would be a good one. If you’d like to reach out, I can chat with you about, again, what databases you have available to you, and we can chat about other resources that you could check into for that data-driven research.


Audience Question: Do your agencies, or do you know of agencies that include dispatch as part of the wellness programs? 

Christine Johnson: I can’t think of any off the top of my head. I know that there are several that include dispatch in their wellness programs or have an embedded clinician in dispatch to be able to better divert calls, so that wouldn’t end up in a police response. I can’t think of any off the top of my head. I don’t know if Sammie or anyone else could.

Sammie Wicks: You know, I was actually going to defer to Chief Metz because I do know at least in Aurora, the dispatchers do get to benefit from the wellness program directly, which is cool. Compared to some of the other wellness programs that I was aware of the past few years, they were sort of an afterthought and that wasn’t the case in Aurora and there’s a big difference in that because dispatchers often get left out of those types of services within organizations. Aurora is one example that does really well.

Dr. Sara Metz: Yeah, I would agree Aurora PD in Colorado has done that under Nick’s direction, as he built a wellness program. Another one, here, in Colorado, is the Douglas County Sheriff’s office. They have an in-house Wellness Coordinator, who is Dan Bright. He was shot in the line of duty five years ago. Some of you may have heard his story. He was shot and paralyzed, and he’s now, still with the agency, and runs their wellness program. Douglas County Sheriff’s Office also includes dispatch in their peer support program and their wellness program as a whole.

Nick Metz: I was just going to say, I think one of the things that’s really important is people really need to start looking at dispatchers as first responders. I tell folks all the time, I’ll go toe to toe with anybody who says, they’re not a first responder. They are the lifeline to the community; they are the lifeline to our responders. And so, you know, it’s kind of get a question. If you need examples, have to get ahold of me and I’m happy to have conversations with anybody about the kind of wellness needs our dispatchers need. It’s a tremendously difficult job. One, I know I could not do it, and I have just the utmost respect for them. And they need all the support that they can get.



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