Wellness Programs at a Public Safety Agencies

Summary & Limitations: It has become a very apparent to researchers that wellness and stress management are of considerable importance to the longevity of a law enforcement agency and the professionals therein. One review noted, “[public safety personnel] are in need of workplace health and wellness programs that are tailored to their unique organizational and occupational needs.”

In 2014, just under 20% of officer fatalities were job-related illnesses, such as heart attacks. It would be worth noting, that the costs of an in-service heart attack has been calculated between $40,000 and $750,000. This, and cost for other related health conditions, are costs worth noting when weighing the costs and benefits of an agency wellness program.

Unfortunately, not many wellness programs have been rigorously evaluated, so included here are some examples of programs that have been instituted at law enforcement agencies around the nation, as well as resources that provide some helpful guidelines for starting a wellness program at your agency.

Resources (Hyperlinked, if available):

This report includes four examples of wellness programs around the nation and some of the results. Costs will vary based on agency and the extent that a wellness program is implemented.

Boni, N. (2004). Exercise and physical fitness: The impact on work outcomes, cognition, and psychological well-being for police. Marden,, South Australia: Australasian Centre for Policing Research.

This paper reviewed three areas and their relationship to fitness and exercise: non-physical work outcomes, cognition, and psychological well-being. It should be noted that most of the research was done with companies outside the public safety realm.

  • Non-physical work outcomes: Participants in a fitness regime saw increased job satisfaction, lower rate of absenteeism, lower rate of turnover, and increased productivity.
  • Cognition: More studies than not show exercise has a positive impact on mental function. However, the effects seem dependent on a number of factors including intensity of the exercise, complexity of the cognitive test, and timing of the cognitive assessment.
  • Psychological well-being: Exercise participants saw a reduction in perceived stress, as well as psychological symptoms. Again, these results were dependent on a number of factors such as intensity of exercise and baseline psychological health and fitness levels of participants.

Hartley, T. A., Burchfiel, C. M., Fekedulegn, D., Andrew, M. E., & Violanti, J. M. (2011). Health disparities in police officers: comparisons to the US general population. International journal of emergency mental health, 13(4), 211.

This article from the National Institute of Health provides a fair amount of research to justify a wellness program. Some of the points that are brought up include:

  • Police have the highest risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) of any occupation.
  • Police experience high-levels of stress due to shift work and the potential to witness or experience violent events
  • Police are more likely to sleep less than 6 hours in a 24-hour period.
  • Police smoke more than employees is other work forces.

Online Resources (Hyperlinked):

IACP’s Center for Officer Safety & Wellness (http://www.theiacp.org/COSW)

The IACP has compiled numerous guides on wellness topics ranging from creating a fitness program to eating well on the go to mental health to officer safety. A number of topics even have attractive, quick-to-read brochures for officers and their families.

National Institute of Corrections – Health and Wellness for Corrections Professionals (https://nicic.gov/health-and-wellness-for-corrections-professionals)

Like the IACP, the NIC has assembled a number of resources, including webinars and reports, focusing on the stressors that face correctional officers. Topic resources range from officer safety to maintaining work-life balance.

PERF’s Guide to Occupational Health and Safety for Law Enforcement Executives (https://www.bja.gov/publications/perf_le_occhealth.pdf)

For something a little more in depth, this 2010 guide from the Police Executive Research Forum provides a detailed overview of the importance of health and safety programs, as well as the nuts and bolts of what such programs should include.

Available Programs from the BJA’s VALOR Officer Safety Initiative (https://www.bja.gov/programs/valor.html)

Health and wellness isn’t just about exercising and eating right, it is also about stress management, officer safety, and resiliency. This site from the VALOR Initiative is a hub for a number of officer wellness programs, many promoting the mental health side of officer wellness.

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): Support for Law Enforcement Officers (https://www.nami.org/find-support/law-enforcement-officers)

This section of the NAMI website provides an overview of officer mental health, as well as links to research on officer wellness. In partnership with the DOJ, NAMI also provides a report for leadership titled Preparing for the Unimaginable: A Report on Officer Mental Health.