Investing in the Families of Law Enforcement Officers
Guest Blogger: Chief Harry Earle, Gloucester Township, New Jersey Police Department, New Jersey
Over my last 32 years of service with Gloucester Township, New Jersey Police Department, I’ve learned the value of supporting our officers and those they go home to every night after their shifts. When we define an officer’s family, it includes so much more than spouses. It’s every single person who provides support in an officer’s life. It’s parents, children, and partners. My parents didn’t see the inside of a police station for the first 15 years of my career. Because of this, we've created opportunities for officers to showcase their work in the community and share valuable wellness resources with their families.
I became Chief of Police in 2010, but I hadn’t heard the term "officer wellness” prior to 2008 at the FBI National Academy Associates National Conference. Building upon what we learned about this concept, we developed the idea for a New Employee Night and separate Awards Night. We wanted to recognize the officers who do so much good in our community and let their peers see the great work they’re doing. Our Awards Night recognizes our Officer of the Year and other outstanding acts of service. Our New Employee Night started as a New Officer Night, but was later redesigned to include dispatchers, administrators, and other civilian positions to incorporate those who are so dedicated to our department.
During the New Employee Night, staff can bring their family for a tour, hear about gun safety in the home, and learn about common stressors on the job from our EAP coordinators. All employees are also provided our Employee and Family Wellness Guide which includes information on health and fitness, financial literacy, and recommendations on how to explain their law enforcement career to their own children.
Our Take Your Child to Work Day Event was important to me as I have children of my own and wanted to incorporate them into what I do, but in a family-friendly atmosphere. The event is open to officers’ and civilians’ children of all ages. To encourage lifelong support and wellness, retired officers or officers whose careers ended early due to injuries can bring their grandkids or even their children. We display all types of equipment we use, and children are surprised to see how advanced some of the equipment and techniques are. They see a demonstration from the K9 officers, tour the department, try to solve a mock crime, and learn how to do fingerprints.
We also have a Family Resource Center with a full-time social worker on staff for youth and youth exposed to violence in the community. Officers sometimes speak with our social worker about their own children and families. The Center workers meet with all new officers and academy trainees to teach them about talking to their own children and recognizing symptoms of anxiety. Trainers emphasize that those feelings and symptoms are completely normal, and they can be effectively managed. Speakers present all of the resources we have available, so everyone is on the same page. Eventually, our goal is to bring the existing veteran officers up to speed on the resources available.
Departments that invest in the families of their officers are simultaneously investing in the wellbeing of those who serve their community. By hosting family-friendly events and sharing valuable resources, the officers of Gloucester Township Police are promoting a department culture of mindfulness and wellness.
For more information:
For more family support resources from the IACP please visit the Law Enforcement Family Resources webpage.
To learn more about talking to your child about the law enforcement profession check out the Supporting Officer Safety Through Family Wellness: Helping Your Young Child Understand Your Job infographic.
This blog post is part of a series highlighting the importance of including families and companions in officer safety and wellness. This project is funded through the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.