The law enforcement landscape has changed profoundly over the past 30 years. From Rodney King, 9/11, Cambridge, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, George Floyd, Kim Potter and a host of other incidents, our profession is clearly behind the eight ball in a lot of places but Minnesota specifically has been under the microscope for some time.
The major issues and events that have occurred in the past several years are impacting the morale, mental health, and overall well being of officers. Not to mention personal attacks, aggression, and overall lack of respect for authority. Command staff, supervisors, managers, leaders, partners, training officers, and recruit training staff need to understand basic mental health issues that includes signs/symptoms, and how each mental health condition might present in officers/employees. While not clinically trained, as employees, managers, leaders and supervisors have a duty, moreover the morale obligations, to be good stewards of their peers, and our profession. As a profession we also need to provide trainings for family members so they can look for the red flags, related to mental health issues. This includes spouses, children, and parents of younger officers.
There are more entities impacting the law enforcement profession than could be discussed here but it is obvious that policy boards are instituting directives that are not always realistic or routed in law or best practices. Regulatory and governmental agencies are impacting their will on agencies.
The Minneapolis Police Department and the two consent decrees (state/federal) is a prime example within Minnesota. In California state legislatures are changing the power/authority and landscape for police. In Michigan local government bodies are passing orders about not enforcing certain laws, and finally in Illinois the cash bail system is looking to be gone soon. Minneapolis as a result of the decrees and acts have impacted the morale of the agency; recruitment, hiring ability, and retention which the impacts daily operations. People are not wanting to work in or with the City Minneapolis Police Department, and Hennepin County for a variety of reasons, and this will continue for the foreseeable future. First tier suburbs and agencies within driving distance to Minneapolis are having a tough time finding officer candidates. The City of Ramsey has had standing officer(s) positions for at least 9+ months, Minnetrista, and other outer suburbs are struggling for candidates. To that end Duluth Police, Becker County, Bemidji Police, Norman County, MN BCA, and MN State Patrol are all struggling to find candidates.
I would postulate that some of the smaller cities across Minnesota, will potentially look to contract with the Sheriffs Office for law enforcement services, because they just don’t have the staffing. This is evident by the City of Morris closing up shop and contracting with the county sheriffs office. The City of Silver Lake (MN) recently disbanded their police agency. The City of Blackduck (MN), has struggled to get a chief of police for at least 16+ months. The City of Walnut Grove, has struggled for 12+ months to find police officers.
With a decrease in staffing across Minnesota, and the United States as a whole means that officers are struggling with a variety of issues that are impacting performance. High performing officers are burning out faster, senior officers are leaving because of the politics, and officers that don’t leave are stuck and potential retire on duty. These historical and more recent events have spurred changes and discussions at the officer (patrol level), supervisors, command staff, political sub-division level, policy board levels (MN POST Board) state, and federal levels.
Agencies have implemented policies and procedures that are limiting the effectiveness of patrol techniques. Thus changing at the core the ethos of an officer. This is no longer a discussion if the officer is a warrior or guardian, it is if there is even a body to fill the opening, PTSD, and suicide are impacting law enforcement, but that is it is not the only mental health condition impacting the profession. Also by the time it has gotten to PTSD leaves, and suicide, the profession has missed all the key indicators, and potential points in time to provide the most successful help, and healing power of therapy.
Regardless whether we agree or not with the changes, the changes are happening. These changes are impacting agencies, and officers mental health, morale, and overall wellbeing. As an individual, officer, and mental health professional, I will focus on what I can control, and that is providing information to others regarding how to maintain mental safety/security and sanity in the changing landscape.
What To Do
First officers must work to ensure that their physical health, is taken care of, changes in sleeping, eating, weight gain, or maladaptive behaviors (drinking), and risky behaviors are signs that should put people on notice.
Officer must demand and continue to look into actions that will impact their own mental health. This includes utilizing employee assistance programs, utilize of sick time to take care of mental health issues, to include taking a “sick day” to clear your mind, discussing and addressing mental health in briefings, squad rooms, classrooms, and any place they meet up. Lunch, coffee or squad car to car are all good times for good partners to address mental health.
Agencies need to make mental health a priority. As individual officers this means we address, and talk with partners about events, incidents, and the realities of working within the industry. This is not war stories, this is talking for therapeutic help. First line supervisors need to be approaching officers who might be having problems with empathy and resources to provide them. Sometimes handing out a business card or direct contact to a therapy office is enough to get the officer to reach out for help. Sharing a personal story related to mental health experiences helps normalize mental health issues within officer ranks and in the industry. The profession also needs to understand our partners in corrections, and dispatchers also suffer from mental health issues as well, and if they fall under your purview, you have a duty to care. The other side a dispatcher/corrections officer can generally tell the tone of an officer if things have changed. Having the courage to have conversations across lines brown/blue/yellow (dispatchers) is extremely important.
Officers, and supervisors need to be taught symptoms that demonstrate that an officer might be in or having a mental health crisis. There are acute conditions that need immediate intervention, and those conditions that don’t need immediate intervention. We have all heard of the officers that have killed themselves in the agency locker-room or parking lot, these officers clearly are in need, and we as a profession missed the signs, and symptoms.
WE FAILED THEM.
But hind-sight is always 20/20. Going forward you have been put on notice.