“Among the 21st Century law enforcement challenges such as civil unrest, highly publicized officer encounters, community relations, building trust and legitimacy, and critical incidents resulting from mental illness, law enforcement officers today are facing an unprecedented frequency and intensity of emotionally charged situations.”
– Chief Brian Harvey, Police Chief of Allen, Texas
Police forces around the world face dangerous and often unpredictable situations on a daily basis. For the United States this means over 744,000 police officers work in an environment which tests the fortitude of even the most steel-nerved among them. In as little time as a split second, an officer may have to make the decision to use deadly force, and then live with that decision for the rest of his or her life. Such a decision will, undoubtedly, affect that officer’s emotional fitness from that moment on. “The consequences of mistakes in this industry are catastrophic sometimes,” observes Chief Roger Chaffin. Undeniably, the law enforcement profession involves making mind-altering decisions like no other profession in our society.
So how can we support our officers with the challenges and consequences of making those decisions? “It’s the police mindset that has to change,” according to Paul McGeough. “[T]he U.S. doesn’t have a unified police-training program – there are 18,000 state and local departments and 73 federal law enforcement agencies, each with its own culture. . . Those police chiefs who do try to reform their forces to focus on de-escalation rather than confrontation face intense pushback, both from ‘police associations and from politicians.’ Under the Obama administration, the Justice Department created reform plans for ‘dozens of dodgy police departments,’ but the Trump administration is scrapping those agreements. There’s little hope [of] the ‘catalyst for change’ that America so desperately needs.”
Determining and developing emotional fitness for the role at hand will help us support our police officers in the field, create clear performance standards which consider emotional fitness, and is perhaps a small step towards US police reform.