NOPD recently hosted its first-ever Peer Support Program, a training module designed to show officers how to assist fellow officers in achieving mental wellness.
The two-day training was held in conjunction with Southern Law Enforcement Foundation (SLEF) at the NOPD Training Academy. It included 34 participants from NOPD, Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office (JPSO), Shreveport PD, Lafayette, Caddo and Ouachita parishes, Louisiana Probation and Parole, and New Orleans EMS and 9-1-1 dispatchers.
“The training and emphasis is specifically directed for platoon officers, however it was open to civilian employees as well,” said Mike Miller, Clinical Coordinator of NOPD Medical and Social Services. “The model is very inclusive. We had departmental social workers from sex crimes and victims’ assistance, crime lab technicians, NOPD chaplains along with people from EMS and the jail.”
The program focused on Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM), a psychological first aid model that helps identify and address psychological well-being after a traumatic event. It includes both individual “defusing” and a group therapeutic process.
The goal is to help the individual recover quicker and have more coping skills to get through the aftermath and subsequent “triggers” that will affect them as they move past the event. As one instructor stated, “They can turn bitter or better – this helps you re-frame the event and return to a healthier normal.”
Offered as part of the Officers Assistance Program (OAP), the course is designed for officers interested in assisting colleagues with their emotional well-being. Peer support occurs when people provide knowledge, experience, and emotional, social or practical help to each other. It commonly refers to an initiative consisting of trained supporters and can take a number of forms such as peer mentoring, listening or counseling.
“We've gotten tremendous feedback from the officers – they're really excited. The need for a peer support program is something we have been hearing about from our officers for a long time and we're happy to finally get it off the ground,” said Miller. We were excited that the department was so accommodating and that so many officers attended – including many who came on their off time. The Academy staff, Commander John Thomas and Commander Chris Goodly went out of their way to make it an outstanding success.”
The CISM program deals with what happens to the individual after the traumatic event is over. It provides the individual with tools to aid colleagues who have just experienced a critical incident like a shooting, on-duty suicide, or a multi-fatality accident. It’s also effective for individuals suffering from burn-out.
Instructors showed participants how stress affects both the brain and the body with the release of cortisol, the fight or flight super hormone that is released during stressful situations. They spelled out how law enforcement personnel can take better care of themselves and control cortisol production by eating foods that are rich in serotonin, amino acids, antioxidants and phytonutrients.
Sgt. Wade Bowser feels the program is a good one that will increase morale if it can be implemented on a wide scale.
“If it really takes off I believe attitudes will improve and D-1s and excessive force incidents will go down,” said Bowser. “People are afraid to talk – how great would it be to talk to a peer who can relate to what you’re going through and who is there to help you through it? This program can save careers – and it can save lives.”
“At OAP, we’re working to change the culture regarding mental health awareness,” added Miller. “That's a goal for everyone within the organization and within the first responder community.”