The first line of defense against employee failure is the recognition of the first stages of peer crisis and by providing early intervention. Even better is to provide support from the first day of hire through employee development. This is difficult in the public safety arena for many reasons. Public safety employees are not trusting of individuals outside their peer groups. Public safety employees have heard hollow promises ad nauseam from those claiming to want to help. Public safety employees can quote horror stories of peers who have stepped forward for help only to face agency or legal sanction or loss of employment. Public safety employees don’t want to appear weak by admitting they need help. And yes, public safety employees sometimes are too smart for their own good and resist attempts from well-intentioned peers unless it is already a formal and accepted part of their agency culture.
Agencies with healthy peer support and mentoring teams can successfully reduce the onset and life cycle of employee distress through a combination of proactive and reactive responses. Mentors are trained to work with new employees and coach them through the early rough patches. Peer support responds to critical incidents or employee personal or professional crisis. Peer support members and mentors work in partnership to ensure long term support for peer employees and their families through a formal cooperative design.
In 2010 the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department (IMPD) established a formal Peer Support and Mentoring program which has become the model for law enforcement employer and employee resiliency and wellness response. In 2015, IMPD received the prestigious DOJ/BJA/NLEOMF Destination Zero VALOR award for Officer Wellness for their innovative programs. In that same year IMPD Captain Brian Nanavaty appeared in front of the U.S. Congress to provide testimony on law enforcement wellness as a panelist at the Congressional Law Enforcement Caucus in Washington DC. In April 2016, the White House identified IMPD as a model agency and directed U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch to Indianapolis to observe the wellness model as part of the President’s 21st Century Task Force on Policing. During her visit, Lynch stated “the Indianapolis police wellness program should be the model for law enforcement wellness across the United States.”