Guest Blogger: Captain Kathy Morgan, Overland Park, KS, Police Department
With 24 years of service in the Overland Park, KS, Police Department (OPPD), I've become an advocate for agencies providing peer support and psychological services for families and spouses of employees—sworn officers, dispatchers, and civilians. Supporting families has become a priority of the department in the past couple of years, and as such we have expanded our resources.
As first responders, we often focus on the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of our officers; however, their families and spouses also should be a priority when it comes to wellness. For this reason, agencies should consider developing peer support groups and make them accessible to families. This contributes to an organizational culture which supports wholistic health and makes the agency more family friendly. Over the past two years at OPPD, we have established a peer support program currently consisting of 24 civilian and sworn members who offer assistance and resources to all OPPD employees, both current and retired, and their families.
OPPD offers an employee assistance program (EAP) for officers and their families to provide connections to counseling and other services. Our Care Organization for Police Employees (COPE) program allows the department to provide tangible support in the form of food, household items, or clothes to families in need or crisis. It also provides information booklets with referral for other helpful organizations, resources, and programs. COPE is just another way OPPD supports the families within our agency, both current employees and retired.
Along with offering guidance and resources such as EAP and COPE, we have begun hosting a “Family Night,” allowing newly hired officers’ loved ones a chance to meet the peer support team, hear about available resources, and generally learn more about life as a first responder family. During our first two Family Nights, attendees received an introduction from chief, toured the department, socialized with other families, and learned about the tactical equipment used in the department.
This type of introduction to the department is essential for families, especially for those who might be receiving their first exposure to law enforcement through their officer or employee. This job is stressful for our officers, dispatchers, and employees, as a result, families can face stress and anxiety of their own. As such, we must also keep in mind the equally important physical, mental, and emotional well-being of these families and provide them support and resources.
I personally grew up with law enforcement in my family and currently have a husband and daughter in the profession, and from what I’ve experienced, being treated as an integral part of this community is an amazing feeling. That is why it’s important for agencies to also focus on resources that support law enforcement families. We have to constantly reach out to families: they can’t be forgotten. My tips for supporting these families are simple.
Keep families engaged. Peer support members should say, “I’m here to listen to you.” Incorporate activities or events like OPPD’s Family Night to obtain personal connections with the families.
Reach out to retirees and their families. It’s common to assume that when people retire, they don’t need support, but we should constantly maintain communication, so they aren’t forgotten.
Address warning signs. Peer support members can help train staff and families on certain actions or displays of emotion that may serve as warning signs that help may be needed within a family. Simply initiate a conversation or provide any useful resources or guides to individuals who may have shown indications of issues.
Law enforcement is such a remarkable profession we should continually serve the unique needs of all department employees and their families.
For more information:
For more family support resources from the IACP please visit the IACP Officer Safety and Wellness webpage.
This blog post is part of a series highlighting the importance of including families and companions into officer safety and wellness. This project is funded through the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.