Moving from reactive to proactive change in the policing profession isn’t a novel idea, yet the weight of bureaucracy in policing seems to hold back the proactive change still needed to fight the suicide epidemic facing law enforcement today.
The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) discussed the reactive nature of the policing profession in their Executive Guide on Addressing Sexual Offenses and Misconduct by Law Enforcement when they discussed reasoning for not addressing sexual misconduct.
“Two reasons are commonly offered by executives as to why they would resist instituting a sexual misconduct policy or program. First, they report that there is no sexual misconduct problem in their agency. This may be an indicator of an undetected or denied problem. Leaders must be aware of the potential and willing to implement policy and procedures for monitoring and intervening proactively. Second, because policies are typically “incident driven,” they admit they are unlikely to develop a policy until one is absolutely necessary. To merely address issues and behaviors after they arise is an ineffective operating model and a lapse in critical oversight that can create significant liability while risking the public’s trust and confidence.”
Another reputable source in the law enforcement industry, Handcuffed by Malcolm Sparrow, (and what we’re reading for book club this month at the American Society of Evidence-Based Policing) also discusses the reactive vs. proactive nature in policing, when discussing investigating an incident.
“Investigators naturally focus on the specific incident, but that one instance is often just a small clue that there might be a much larger and systemic pattern of abuse, and that we will never affect or transform the behavior of the offending organization until we understand what is really happening inside it, what motivates the improper behaviors, and what mechanisms are being used to shield the improper conduct from outside scrutiny or intervention (22)”.
Getting to the root cause of the problem, like what Sparrow is suggesting, is what I view as a proactive way to affect change.
If we’re at this point where we’ve understand the need to move to proactive policy rather than reacting to an incident in our respective departments, then what are the next steps? What does that look like? Will your department be able to decide that implementing positive and supportive policies is the right decision, notwithstanding the financial burden, before an unfortunate event such as a suicide occurs in the department? How will this change happen?
Using Film to Promote Change
One man in San Diego has been trying to help law enforcement departments get to this point of proactivity before they experience a tragedy in their department. James Anthony Ellis, or known as Jim by those who know him well, created a film, Keeping the Peace. I sat down with Jim to ask him some questions about it and find out what he’s now working on to help the movement (some really cool things!!)–to read the entire interview with this amazing man, click here.
Jim spent two years filming this movie, spending quality time hearing about the solutions being implemented to change officers lives. He told me, “over the two years of the solutions given, the three main areas of support [he] found were counseling, peer support, and the chaplain services”.
As a civilian, he can provide a unique, outside perspective on the complex issue of mental health in law enforcement. Sometimes it takes someone with a different viewpoint to see a solution that could be staring you in the face.
Jim thinks that in order to encourage a more proactive culture in law enforcement to address mental health, that “it’s going to take the commanding officers being willing to share that they are using the services as well. Also, officers need to find a 100% confidential place to talk about having suicidal ideations without having heavy consequences. Even more, there needs to be a strong emphasis on wellness during their training in the academy”. Read the entire interview with Jim now.
A Chief’s Approach
Another incredible leader in this field is Chief Neil Gang of the Pinole Police Department. Chief Gang has been personally impacted by officer suicide, as a fellow officer and close friend of his died by suicide. Chief Gang has created a model in his department which he named after his friend and fallen officer, the Asher Model, and it addresses seven areas he believes create a culture of wellness. Learn more about it here.
Chief Gang understands the importance of stakeholder buy-in on all levels. He told me he received no pushback from city council or police unions during the implementation of the Asher Model, and “believes part of that goes to relationship building; you must be committed at all levels of the organization to build authentic relationships…Relationships build trust and with trust you can accomplish anything”.
We discussed the importance of officers feeling they can use these tools, and the stigma still existing in law enforcement agencies. The way Pinole PD is working to make sure officers don’t feel that asking for help might stunt their career growth is by “having those thoughtful and meaningful discussions with [his] employees. Creating that environment of ‘it’s ok not to be ok’. If you’re authentic with your intentions, then [he] believes [law enforcement] can break down stigmas and change outcomes”.
My hope is that police departments can learn from the tragedies in other departments before it affects their own. What are other ways we didn’t talk about that you know can help to promote wellness in a department?