From the Officer Safety and Wellness (OSW) Group Meeting Summary on on Psychological Health, detailing an Austin, TX example of mental health assessment for safety forces personnel:
Austin (Texas) Police Department
Lt. Greg Moss, Professional Standards Division, Risk Management Section
The Austin Police Department (APD) serves a population of 825,000 people with 2,300 employees in one of the fastest growing cities in America. The APD takes an all-encompassing approach to employee wellness efforts by providing the following:
PEER Support Program
Returning Officer Program
Other wellness benefits
Regarding the first, Dr. Carol Logan, who has been with the department since 2003, heads Psychological
Services. As the clinical director of PEER Support Program, she provides services for 2,200 employees.
Logan is also a practitioner of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), which some
research has shown to be effective in treating PTSD, especially with law enforcement officers because it
effectively gets through the strong defenses that many officers have.
Second, Sergeant Dan Armstrong, a recovering alcoholic who was close to losing his job, leads the PEER Support Program, which began in 2008 and facilitates recovery by providing pre-crisis intervention from co-workers trained to give specialized social support specific to the law enforcement profession. It is designed to augment, but not replace, other outreach programs such as the employee assistance program (EAP), the chaplain program, psychological services, and wellness services.
PEER Support personnel include six teams made up of a total of 48 volunteers, both sworn and non-sworn,
25 of whom are trained in critical incident stress management (CISM) debriefing. The teams serve as a
referral source for services, and their conversations are confidential. A peer support volunteer will break
that confidentiality only if there is an admission of a criminal act or abuse, or an indication of intent to
harm one’s self or others. Since 2008, peer support contacts have increased from 200 to more than 1,000.
Historically, police culture has failed to acknowledge the impact of stress and trauma on officers. While
some officers dealt with the stress of the job relatively well, others leave the profession, and still others turn
to negative coping behaviors such as alcohol. The two key components to stimulating cultural change are
policy and administrative support. In addition, police departments need to afford supervisors the ability to
use alternative discipline as a means of training and education.
Art Acevedo, APD’s chief of police, made it clear that he wants his officers to get help before an issue
becomes a crisis. To provide this help, peer support volunteers reach out to an officer who, for example,
had a negative interaction with internal affairs during an interview where the officer was the subject of
Third, the Chaplains Program, which began in 2008, is a collaborative effort between Psychological Services,
PEER Support, and the training academy. It comprises 22 volunteer chaplains and offers spiritual support,
personal and family counseling, and ministerial services for APD officers and employees, as well as their immediate family members.
The chaplains are available to assist in times of injury, illness, the death of a loved one, and other traumatic
situations. They are available upon request and in other circumstances when needed. Chaplains participate in a Duty Chaplain On-Call Program for critical incidents and visit area commands. In addition, each volunteer chaplain is required to participate in the APD ride-along program once a quarter. As a vital link
with the Austin faith community, chaplains also provide the APD with input on community problems,
needs, concerns, and interests as expressed by the faith community.
Fourth, the Returning Officer Program includes two components. The first component maintains
contact with the officers’ family members while the officers begin their military deployment. The second
component is for returning officers, who must go through a physical and psychological assessment and
retraining. They are not cleared to return to patrol until the checklist is complete.
Last, other wellness benefits provided by the APD include confidential counseling for alcohol and drug
issues, voluntary health screenings, fitness evaluations, and physical exams. Officers seeking civil service promotion must have a physical exam prior to being promoted. Officers that work in units that have
physical fitness requirements are allowed to work out while on duty or use flexible schedules that provide
time for exercise.
The APD is a drug- and alcohol-free workplace that requires random and critical incident drug testing,
and personnel have a duty to report both employees and supervisors. Supervisors also have a duty to get
assistance for the employee.
For more information, visit: https://cops.usdoj.g..