The longer I’m in Law Enforcement, the longer I realize we as agencies are more or less the same. Sure, big city vs. small town might have different pace and calls. But ultimately, external stressors are the same. Internal politics are the same. Exposure to trauma is the same. Physical and emotional health issues are the same.
Burn out is the same.
Everyone is stressed. There is angst all around, traumatic calls seem higher than ever. Every unit is short. Everyone is tired. Most of you will keep getting back on the horse, no matter how many times you get bucked off. No matter how many bones or broken, you’ll duct tape yourself back together and keep chugging along.
But that doesn’t mean it’s not taking a toll. That doesn’t mean it’s sustainable. And there are things we can all do.
Counseling and Therapy Resources:
Exact resources, access and availability and insurance coverage vary of course. But here are some resources to get you started. Many providers do phone or video calls, which is especially helpful for those on shiftwork. The latter links apply to WA State:
Every area has crisis hotlines. Don’t overthink it. If you’re pondering, debating then STOP and CALL. Your life matters. Now is not a time to try to apply ration to whether people want you around or not. They do. You know that, too. We learned that in the early stages of our careers. People in crisis don’t think clearly. So if you’re hovering in a dark place, recognize you are not thinking clearly and trust in what your gut knows.
Again, stop and call. For example, WA State has Code 4 NW, code4nw.org
Peer Support is essentially a program that encourages peer-level contact and check ins for mental and emotional support. After all, who knows your job better than those who do you job? Who knows you better than the people you see all day? Who knows better when you are not on your game, when something is off, or when your fuse is short? Your buddies. Your TEAM.
What a Peer Support program does is officiate the communication to prevent this meaningful, critical stress relief and care from being turned against the employee. An employer or investigator cannot compel testimony on said conversations.
Not every agency has a peer support program. If you have one, be sure to be familiar with the policy and your state laws referencing peer support, confidentiality and privileged conversation.
Peer programs also aren’t created equally. They are built on TRUST, not words in a policy. Ultimately, if the people on the team are the compassionate, loyal, respectful individuals you imagine should be on such a team, then you should be good to go.
The power of talking to someone is huge. Consider those outside of police work for sounding boards: family and friends. Consider your clergy. Your mentors in and out of these walls. Maybe your peers from different departments for a more objective perspective. A total stranger with anonymity (crisis hotline). Everyone and every situation is different.
What matters most is not giving up, as you aren’t alone. And you never will be.