Webinar presenter Jonathan Parker answered a number of your questions after his presentation, Watch Your Six Part 2. Here are just a few of his responses.
Audience Question: Jonathan you talked about identifying your own sense of calling and purpose. How do you go about doing that?
Jonathan Parker: I think that sometimes it is not so easy as you just have this epiphany moment. I believe that oftentimes it is kind of that question if a leader’s born or are they made. It says that whoever was that rose to be the leader rises to the occasion, maybe they are trust into the moment and they rise into the moment. I think discovering our passions, discovering our calling a lot of times has to do with our own personal journey. Look at those moments of life that have been particularly difficult for you. Look at what you have learned or what you have gained and try to determine what is it that you are passionate about or if you can help somebody in a particular area, what would that particular area be? Where are you strong? Where are you passionate? Something that I think too is very organic, sometimes you begin in one direction and it begins to take shape in a totally different direction. I’ll be honest. I’ll use my story. I went to seminary. I thought I was going to be a pastor and when it came down to it, I need to put food in the table. Things weren’t working out. I went and get hired on and twelve years late here I am in law enforcement. Who knew that my passion for helping people that I thought would be in one direction and my journey through law enforcement has led to the point where I sit here today offering this health and wellness. I think your own personal story, your journey, hardships, and your passions still guide you in the direction where you begin to determine what it is that you feel like you want to specifically invest in.
Audience Question: You talked about how the profession has been changing and embracing the psyche of holistic wellness. What if we find ourselves in an agency that just isn’t quite on board with that just yet. It doesn’t encourage this kind of wellness or asking for help or maybe the overall attitude of the department is just to suck it up. What do you do?
Jonathan Parker: One of the things I have to remind myself and people around here is I’m not from a huge agency. Our agency is about 400-450 employees. My previous agency was about 450. That’s pretty large in resource but many or most agencies are rural or smaller and you don’t have those same advantages and even in some large agencies you have some issues. This is what I would do. First of all, I would focus on yourself. Focus on taking care of yourself and being the example for others to follow. In those personal times, where I talked about mentoring somebody else, investing in somebody else is a grassroots effort to bring about change. Something else you can do that I have been reviewing and reading again recently if you go to the Department of Justice’s page the COPS, community-oriented policing, they just back in May, released 11 case studies from departments around the country on mental health and wellness resilience. In this case study, they are talking about case studies from Oregon, from the Indianapolis Police Department, Nashville Metro Police Department and they are talking about various resources from the things that these agencies are doing. I think not only do you start with yourself and working on yourself be an example and start at a grassroots level. I think you have to begin to arm yourself with resources, national resources, resources that are credible. As I mentioned, The Police Chief Magazine, the Department of Justice, these 11 agencies that are model agencies and their approach to wellness to the model of all that they are including. They actually give a table in printed in my desk still sitting here, Continuum of Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness program. They list all of the things that you’ll probably find that your agency is doing something. Key in and capitalize on that and then add layers to it as you go along. Basically, you got to build buy-in, you got to sell it. You don’t have to rely on yourself to sell it. Rely on experts, rely on the Department of Justice, rely on the IACP, the National Sheriffs Association, rely on those resources. Basically, mount an argument that only a fool would refuse and deny. Now we know I would still say it. There are still some people out there, some fools that are still going to resist it and you can only do what you can only do but you can start with yourself, you can start with 1-on-1 grassroots level and then you can refer to some of these resources and take it to a more credible level.
Audience Question: So many of our agencies are small. A lot of them are underresourced, a lot of them have a lot of open slots they are trying to fill. They are requiring overtime and they still have that off-duty work. How do you recommend the audience figure out a way to say no or at least find a way to regroup and rejuvenate those batteries when they are dealing with these very challenging situations that so many other agencies are dealing with?
Jonathan Parker: That’s an outstanding question. I don’t really know that I have the answer to it because it is a challenge. There are some places where you have an option of working overtime but there are some places, corrections, officers in many jails and other places that are working on mandatory overtime, six days a week and are just absolutely burnt out. For those, it becomes even more difficult. It is very easy for me to say well just do this or just do that. At the end of the day, the truth still remains that maybe you got to start fixing your lunch, preparing your lunch ahead of time, prepping your meals. You are saving some money, you are eating more healthy. You begin to kind of work from there. Sometimes you have to start at the very smallest point. I think there is a book. I don’t know the last degree or 212 or something like that. And it is talking about how at 211 the water is hot. 211° but at 212°F water begins to boil and you never know what that one degree is, what that one percent change is. Sometimes you just have to do the very smallest things you can do and it will build up. Somebody who is in that position my heart really goes out to you because it is so difficult and these smaller agencies really are struggling but try as best as possible to shift perspectives and to realize that hopefully it is not going to be like this forever and everybody is not against you and as we begin to develop some community partnerships and some other things, we may be able to work towards becoming better but there are online resources, if you got to commute to work, you can listen to podcasts. I don’t know exactly what it is, I don’t want to put the price but Justice Clearinghouse is a few dollars a month, you can listen to webinars on the way to and from work or on your lunch breaks. There are resources available. You just have to figure out what works for you and how you can do it one bite at a time, one degree at a time, one percent at a time.
Audience Question: Knowing that we can’t solve the agency’s problems. We can’t necessarily go and find people and take those slots, what should we do, at a human to human level when we see a fellow officer who is clearly struggling but is refusing to admit that they are in pain, refusing to admit that they are struggling? How can we reach out? How can we help them?
Jonathan Parker: I think the approach – I’m serving currently in a role of full-time chaplain and coordinating our volunteer chaplain program and working on some wellness initiatives and the point of chaplaincy is simply what’s called a ministry of presence. Sometimes you can’t change people’s minds. Just be there, be present. Be a support and lead through your own vulnerability, lead through your own support. Sometimes just knowing that resources are available, knowing that there is somebody that cares, that is so powerful. We are by very nature, we are relational beings, we are not intended, we are not created to fly solo through life. It’s just not the way it is. We are by nature relational beings. We are intended to be in a relationship with other people and to interact. That’s why when we punish people, we put them in solitary confinement. That’s considered, like, the ultimate punishment next to what maybe some people would say capital punishment or whatever. You’re trying to help somebody that is really struggling. Maybe they don’t know it. Truthfully, they probably do know it. They don’t want to admit it. You’re just going to have to be there and be present and be a support for them, build a relationship with them and over time help them see that it is okay to ask for help. That you can trust me, that I am not going to go back running my mouth to anybody, that I care about you for you because you are worth caring about and just invest – we are in a relationship business. That’s the thing about it. whether it is the people that we are serving in the street, we are in a relationship business and people are our number one asset. My mother used to say to me, all the time when something bad happens, “Jonathan, remember how that made you feel and when you get into a position, be sure not to make other people feel the same way to do those same things.” That’s a very valid point. Don’t forget where you came from. Don’t forget your struggles and be very careful not to inflict the same wounds on people that were inflicted on you because it is a right of passage or because you can or whatever it may be. Remember that people are number one asset. I’m probably preaching to the choir but if we don’t have people, we don’t have anything. We got to take care of each other.
Audience Question: A lot of times as justice professionals, we don’t talk about what’s going on at our jobs with our families and our friends whoever simply because of the nature, the investigation that we are doing, the proprietary nature of what we do and frankly because sometimes we simply just don’t want to scare or worry our families or friends but as you did say our friends and families do worry. How do we balance that understanding that we need to share something with our friends and families without scaring them and revealing too much? How do you loop them in without scaring them?
Jonathan Parker: I think emotional intelligence comes into play here and it is something that may be in law enforcement has not pent a lot of time understanding. Being sensitive to situations to understand how I talk to a buddy on a call is not the same way I am going to talk to my spouse but I can still convey the essence of the situation if that spouse or that person is open to it. Sometimes you let them establish some ground rules. What is it you’re okay with hearing? What is it that you don’t want to hear that you can’t hear? Begin to talk about setting some ground rules and providing a sanitized version. You go home and you say I was on a terrible call today. It was a tragic accident. Somebody died. That helps you to convey your emotion, your feelings, unpack some of that baggage without having to say yeah her leg was ripped off and just bleeding at this. Just get into some detail. Talk about it in an appropriate way to establish some ground rules but also understand that you do have some other people. If you go to a counselor or a pastor or a chaplain they are bound legally with confidentiality so you go to these people and what you talk about with them unless it is homicidal, suicidal and things like that. You can get into the nitty-gritty details and you can unload some of that stuff. In some cases, I think the therapist would probably suggest that you are retraumatizing your self and other people unnecessarily because the point is not to go in all the graphic detail. the point is just to talk about it, talk about how it affected you and begin to share that with somebody who cares. Maybe it helps. Maybe if you establish your own ground rules, talking to sanitize sort of the cleaned-up way and then find the other people if you need to talk in more detail.
Audience Question: Jonathan, you talked about creating a mentoring program in specific areas, the idea that one cop who has held on to his marriage and done a great job nurturing his marriage or the one who has a really well-positioned for retirement because they’ve held tightly to their finances. That was a fantastic idea. If you like this idea, how would you recommend folks take that concept to their supervisors and then get everybody to step up and say hey I can talk about x with their department?
Jonathan Parker: I’m still in that process myself. If somebody has done that out there, I would love to hear from them. I would love to get their ideas, shoot me an email or whatever the case may be. I think we have to talk about in terms of language that is familiar. Right now, the catchphrase or the term that is familiar is peer support. There are a lot of resources out there that talk about peer support. Again in the Department of Justice this report on the 11 case studies, pretty much every agency – Las Vegas Police Department, Indianapolis Metro, I think Los Angeles Sherriff’s, maybe San Antonio. Pretty much every organization is doing peer support. I think actually I am looking into the more that the Indianapolis Metro actually calls it peer support and mentoring. I think you would just approach it as we want to develop a peer support program but understanding that peer support needs to focus on holistic comprehensive wellness. It’s not just peer support for mental health struggles. We begin to focus on all aspects of wellness. We all know the guy in our agency that loves going to the gym, we all know that lady in our department that loves going to the gym and eating right. We all know that that one that is just kind of calm and has a good demeanor about them. And you begin to build buy-ins around what we already know in law enforcement, what we are developing. I don’t think you copy any model that you need for other people. It’s not cookie-cutter. Find out what works and don’t be afraid to fail because there may be some initiatives and things that you try that people are not interested or just does not work in your context. I’ll tell you what’s going to work in the south, is probably not going to work up north or maybe out west. We’re different. Culturally, we’re different. I’ll begin talking in a language that is familiar, look at what other people are doing and then brainstorm with what would work maybe where you’re at.
Click Here to Watch a Recording of Watch Your Six Part 2.