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2016 Officer Wellness Award Winner
San Diego (1,800 sworn, 700 civilians) – SDPD Wellness Unit
The San Diego (CA) Police Department created a Wellness Unit in 2011. This unit is an outgrowth of some painful years in which the SDPD lost five officers in short succession, was suffering budget cuts and lost 1,400 personnel in a 10 year period. The agency recognized that many of the employees who were engaged in misconduct or had committed suicide were in some form of crisis and there were few direct proactive resources available to assist them.
The agency subsequently formed the San Diego PD, Wellness unit, and they immediately were put to work not only developing resources for officers, but being a proactive force that handled critical incidents. In order to better assist officers, members of the Wellness Unit would immediately debrief officers who had experienced or were in the midst of experiencing critical incidents, such as traumatic deaths or police shootings. In some instances, the agency deployed members directly to the scene of an ongoing critical incident to engage officers who were still handling the aftermath and offer support and referrals if necessary.
The agency has worked to change its culture with regard to seeking help and has taken a unique approach to their “Wellness Center.” Once remotely located to offer anonymity to officers seeking help, the SDPD took a novel approach and made the wellness center part of police headquarters. Set up with a welcoming living room setting, it was now part of a regular functioning branch of the police department with a library, free coffee and an open door (literally).
Recruits are trained on the resources available and given a brochure, while the command staffs as well as other ranks are trained on the Wellness Unit and its capabilities. The SDPD Wellness Center publishes a monthly newsletter, and has developed the MAP (Member Assistance Program), for peer to peer counseling.
The team of two sergeants and two officers is a response squad who will speak to officers who may be in crisis or that they have been referred to them by a peer or supervisor. The Wellness Unit has also developed a fitness incentive program for compensatory time if you meet your goal.
This program has created relationships with health care providers and academics to further their knowledge of stress, substance abuse and PTSD. The unit also worked to create a county wide program to share resources between agencies. This allows officers to seek support from other departments.
In a recent full agency evaluation of the program, the data indicated that 99% of the department reported knowing about the unit, 59% reported that they have used their services and 80% reported an increased feeling of wellness. And 88% reported that they felt comfortable using the services.
The Wellness Unit maintains a wellness advisory committee, and are advocates for officers who are under the stress of an internal or administrative investigation. They produce a monthly report for the Chief and track not only their contacts and referrals but manage the confidentiality of those cases.
All of the once dispersed services to support officers, like the chaplains, peer counselors, and HR materials for fitness and health, were all put under one umbrella, the “Wellness Unit.”