When law enforcement agencies recognize the human effect of
stress on its officers then the stigma associated with routine interaction with behavioral health specialists will diminish or become nonexistent. Agencies having a Stress Intervention Continuum (SIT) such as this one are more apt to address law enforcement officer (LEO) behavior before it becomes career or life threatening. The model involves specific events that would regularly trigger a referral to peer support or behavioral health. This need not be an official “fitness” evaluation but more of a check-in with peer support, behavioral health, or consulting psychology service. The level of intervention is related to officer history and may be linked to identified deviation from “typical” annual reviews such as when an officer suddenly exhibits a change in regular habits or on-duty comportment. Cumulative exposure to high stress events should also trigger a routine screening for all officers involved e.g. death of a child or serious injury to fellow officer.
Agencies are getting more adept at tracking call volume and specific events of high community interest. Known events of high acuity/high lethality such as a mass casualty incidents or other high profile/high stress incidents should be cause for officer defusing sessions that might include a group of officers not just a single officer. These sessions should be scheduled soon after the incident occurs. They should include supervisory staff in addition to police officers who participated in the call. Some agencies are calling for annual stress reviews to include screening by a behavioral health specialist or police consulting psychologist.
When officers are identified there needs to be a planned response using a peer support infrastructure that provides for a continuum of service depending upon the individual needs of the LEO and the supports available including behavioral health specialists. In many agencies, especially smaller departments lacking resources, officers’ languish and sometimes spiral downward without support and without somewhere to turn.
Michael Sefton, 2018
SIT – Points of Entry
Exposure to highly stressful events in close sequence e.g. multiple suicides or fatal car crashes, homicide, repeated domestic violence calls involving violence and children, etc.
Change in work assignment, district/station, deployment plain clothes undercover or return from deployment to uniform patrol
Off the job criminality or citizen complaints or neighborhood disputes
Community – on-duty citizen complaint(s) for verbal abuse, dereliction of duty, LEO vehicle crash
Citizen complaints of excessive force during arrest, new supervisory or peer conflict, or direct departmental insubordination.
Use/Abuse of force such as using baton, taser or firearm, recurrent officer involved use of force. Officers are sometimes strongly embittered and angry at this point in their career due to perceived lack of support and powerful feelings career disappointment and alienation.