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The Next Generation of Early Intervention Systems and Officer Wellness: A Chicago Police Department and University of Chicago Crime Lab Collaboration
By Zoe Russek, Senior Research Manager, University of Chicago Crime Lab
In 2017, the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) provided support to the University of Chicago Crime Lab (Crime Lab) and the Chicago Police Department (CPD) to organize an Early Intervention System (EIS) National Advisory Committee (NAC). An EIS is a supervisory tool used in police departments to monitor officer performance via administrative data. The EIS identifies officers in need of assistance early on, allowing supervisors to intervene with the appropriate support in an effort to put the officer on the right trajectory toward a successful career and prevent any adverse outcome that would be harmful to the officer, the department, or the community.
To be successful, an EIS requires agencies to accurately identify officers who need support, as well as provide them with high quality services in response to their needs. Recognizing the interplay of officer wellness and EIS, NAC is comprised of experts in both early intervention and officer wellness. With support from BJA, NAC had its inaugural meeting in April 2017. The committee gathering was a resounding success, leading to continued engagement with the group, including three additional gatherings.
Continued Involvement: The 2019 Officer Wellness Summit
Most recently, in June 2019, the Crime Lab and CPD convened NAC for a two-day Officer Wellness Summit. On the first day, speakers and panelists from around the country discussed topics such as suicide prevention, building resilience, and peer support. On the second day, the speakers, panelists, and NAC brainstormed new approaches to improve officer mental health and wellness within CPD. While the recommendations were tailored to CPD, the core tenants of each apply to departments around the country.
One of NAC’s main recommendations was to establish a centralized Wellness Office and hire a chief wellness officer within the department. Because law enforcement agencies must balance many competing priorities, identifying and empowering a person in a leadership role who is responsible for progress will help departments achieve their wellness goals. The group recognized that the full benefits of providing officers with the skills necessary to be resilient can only be recognized if the department has a healthy environment. The mission of the Wellness Office is to create and foster a department-wide culture of wellness. The chief wellness officer will direct the Wellness Office and be responsible for implementing NAC’s recommendations.
While the Wellness Office will lead these initiatives, NAC stressed the need for departments to engage a diverse set of internal and external stakeholders. The rank and file, unions, and local and national organizations such as Cop to Cop, Yoga for First Responders, and NAMI, which have expertise in implementing similar programs and efforts, must have a seat at the table. Furthermore, departments and their public safety and accountability partners need to acknowledge and commit to fulfilling significant investments (i.e., time, resources, and funding) that will be required to implement and sustain these initiatives.
NAC made these additional recommendations:
- Creating Lasting Change
- Build a foundational philosophy of wellness in every aspect of department policy.
- Develop a shared definition of resilience, acknowledging that it is a process and not a destination.
- Develop a shared definition of wellness.
- Involve unions in generating new ideas and promoting programming.
- Fostering Peer Support
- Implement training requirements for peer support members.
- Implement a formal peer support application process.
- Developing Training and Education
- Inculcate a philosophy of wellness in academy training.
- Implement decentralized trainings to teach the wellness philosophy.
- Imbue the department’s wellness philosophy in field training programs.
- Integrate resilience training into officers’ yearly training requirements.
- Develop a leadership program for sergeants and lieutenants.
- Implement an annual wellness education campaign.
- Providing Clinical Services
- Employ PhD-level clinicians.
- Work toward achieving a Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award from the American Psychological Association.
- Institute feedback-informed treatment.
- Encourage and fund clinicians’ attendance at the IACP Officer Safety and Wellness Symposium.
- Hire clinicians that reflect a department’s diversity.
- Supporting Officers from Academy to Retirement
- Develop a mentorship program distinct from peer support and FTO programs.
- Develop a pre-retirement education program.
- Engage with retirees through social events.
- Supporting Police Families
- Involve families in multiple ways and at multiple stages.
- Implement direct and indirect financial supports for officers and their families.
- Expand the definition of family to include non-traditional families.
- Provide resources to support officers facing family concerns.
- Organize an annual family wellness academy.
- Evaluating Initiative Success
- Institute usage tracking for clinical and peer support contacts.
- Use an evidence-based approach to programming by pilot testing and evaluating initiatives.
While achieving these goals may not be easy, it will be well worth the effort for officers to engage with themselves, their families, their departments, and the communities they serve and protect in new and healthy ways.
For more information on developing an EIS, read the National Police Foundation’s “Best Practices in Early Intervention System Implementation and Use in Law Enforcement Agencies.”
If your jurisdiction is in need of training or technical assistance related to early intervention systems and officer wellness, or if you know of a community that would benefit from this type of assistance, please contact BJA NTTAC at BJANTTAC@ojp.usdoj.gov and we can connect you to the appropriate training, assistance, TTA partner, and/or resources.
If you are interested in submitting the work of your organization or jurisdiction for consideration in a future TTA Today blog post or in obtaining information related to a particular topic area, please email us at BJANTTAC@ojp.usdoj.gov.
Points of view or opinions on BJA NTTAC’s TTA Today blog are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice, BJA, or BJA NTTAC.