Officers need an arsenal of resources and techniques to keep themselves completely healthy. Healthy police officers are far more likely to provide high-quality, professional services to the members of their communities.
One effective strategy for stimulating a culture of psychological wellness within an agency is the development and maintenance of a peer support program. The mission of a peer support program is to provide emotional, social and practical support to police personnel during times of personal or professional crisis. A peer support program may also offer peer-to-peer assistance in anticipating and addressing other potential personal challenges or difficulties.
Police officers have higher rates of divorce, alcoholism, domestic violence, and suicide compared to the general population. Although it’s difficult to get accurate statistics, studies consistently show that the divorce rate is 60-70% higher than the national average. The alcoholism rate is two times higher and officers commit suicide three times more often than the general population.
The Evanston Police Department recognizes the value of a peer-based program to assist with personal and/or professional problems.
The EPD Peer Support Program is composed of a group of peer volunteers that are available to any member of the department. This provides an avenue for members to talk out personal and/or professional problems confidentially with someone who understands and cares.
The Peer Support Program’s goal is to assist peers with stresses caused by personal and work related problems and help them to continue to be a productive member of the department and society as a whole. Peer support is provided to sworn and civilian members as well as retirees.
The EPD Peer Support program has been in place since 2007 and has offered assistance, mentoring and resources to employees whose personal or professional problems negatively affect their well-being, their work performance, or their family life.
The program is staffed by sworn and retired police officers. Peer Support members undergo 40 hours of intense peer support training on topics such as effective listening, emotional distress, suicide awareness, relationships, addictions and communication skills.
Peer Support members are not licensed counselors or therapists. They respect the confidentiality of members they consult. Exceptions must be made, however, for matters requiring mandatory reporting by law or police department general order, such as being a danger to self or others, and matters of suspected of child abuse or factual elder abuse.
Counseling services provided by the Peer Support members are free of charge. Referrals to a private therapist, specialist or outside agencies which are non-department providers may charge a fee. Often health insurance can assist with any outside fees incurred. The department has a contract with an on-call clinician who provides updated training and support as necessary. The clinician is available to respond to critical incidents, provide phone consultations and debriefing for individual or group intervention. The doctor’s charges are based on his contract with the Evanston Police Department.
The program is designed to promote trust and preserve confidentiality, within program guidelines, to anyone who seeks assistance from a Peer Support member.
To request help, a department member or family members may contact an identified Peer Support member or the Peer Support Hotline, which is provided to each officer and their immediate families.