800 officers in line for stress help
Sheriff’s department, GR police will test behavioral health program for one year.
(As seen on WZZM TV 13) Amid the heated and complex national conversation surrounding the deaths of Philando Castile, Alton Sterling and five police officers in Dallas, some West Michigan police will get help coping with a tough job that seems to be getting tougher.
Back in March, Robertson Research Institute, the local research arm of Nevada-based Robertson Wellness, partnered with Grand Rapids-based Mercy Health to launch a pilot program called Op5 with the Grand Rapids Police Department and the Kent County Sheriff’s Department. The goal was to improve officers’ quality of life and long-term health.
The program includes one-on-one and group counseling, workshops and physiological assessments.
Op5 exceeded expectations, said Marc Decker, Robertson’s chief operating officer: The police officers who volunteered to do the program saw tremendous improvement in their health, performance and personal relationships.
GRPD and KCSD have agreed to roll out Op5 over the next year to the two departments’ 800 sworn officers. Robertson and Mercy Health paid for the pilot program. The law enforcement departments will pay at least part of the cost of rolling out the program, but Decker said details are not finalized and the cost is not yet known.
The rollout will help determine the best ways to deploy the program within law enforcement to sustain or even improve the pilot’s positive outcomes over the course of a year, Decker said.
“Since we showed substantial reduction in the inhibitors that cause the officers’ health, performance and relationships to be compromised, we anticipate over the year there will be substantial savings to the department in health care costs,” Decker said.
He said another objective is to test whether local community resources — pharmacists, nurses, public health agencies, etc. — can sustain the program.
“The goal is to determine methods to deliver this service at a very reasonable cost so all agencies can afford it,” he said. As a 501(c)3 public charity, he said, Robertson Research Institute will look to national and local foundations for support as it seeks ways to reach other law enforcement organizations nationally.
Preparation for Op5 was already in the works before the recent police-related deaths nationally, said Joel Robertson, CEO and founder of Robertson Wellness. In fact, the program came in the wake of the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown by Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson and the turmoil that followed. The incident started a national conversation about the relationship between officers and their community, particularly minorities.
That conversation found its way to Grand Rapids law enforcement, which wanted to prevent a similar tragedy from happening locally. There’s an economic perspective, too.
“All police officers here and everywhere have a little bit for fear of the impact that law enforcement has on a community’s economy,” Robertson said.
“Even if you look at Ferguson — and in that situation, the guy was exonerated — it still brought Ferguson down. Even (nearby) St. Louis was affected. It was huge. So they’re saying we have to be super diligent to take care of our officers.”
The group of officers who went through Op5 showed that the nature of their work leads to relationship issues such as getting overly frustrated and “zoning out,” which has led to divorce in many cases. Officers also struggled with health issues including sleep disorders, diabetes, heart disease and elevated cholesterol, as well as performance issues such as the ability to concentrate, manage stress and have healthy energy levels, Decker said.
Robertson said many officers feel such high stress from the job that they’re unable to fully engage with their loved ones when they return home. That detachment is what’s “killing them” on the inside, he said.
As part of the program, Robertson himself went on a number of ride-alongs with the officers and found himself shocked at how wild and stressful the job of a police officer really is.
He witnessed an officer go from a state of riding calmly in a car to being in a full-blown confrontation in less than 60 seconds, having no time to prepare mentally or emotionally.
Officers who reacted to conflict with calm were able to resolve issues with less escalation, he said.
“The one officer did it through calm, and everyone walked away. The other did it through confronting. I can see where confronting is not the best way. They can knock (the situation) down, but it escalates before,” he said.
“It’s a power struggle. That’s a huge thing that I found. Those officers — when they walk in with a better frame of reference — you’re not getting a power struggle.