Law enforcement groups urge mental health awareness amid coronavirus
Experts say police officers may face lasting trauma.
By Luke Barr
Officer Charles "Rob" Roberts, a 20-year veteran of the Glen Ridge Police Department in New Jersey, died from COVID-19 on Monday.
The department says Roberts contracted the virus in April while on the job. After nearly three weeks in the hospital, he became one of the latest officers of more than 100 to die from COVID-19, according to an analysis of reported coronavirus deaths compiled by the Fraternal Order of Police.
Experts say police officers not only have to deal with death in their ranks but also the lasting trauma from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
Tom Coghlan, a former NYPD psychologist, told ABC News that policing during the pandemic is "emotionally taxing" on officers in the field and that much like 9/11, trauma for law enforcement officers from the COVID-19 crisis won't hit until well after the pandemic is over.
"We saw an uptick in suicides and an emotional treatment needs, not in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. It was a year to 18 months after that. You started to see the uptick in suicides and the uptick in emotional troubles," he said.
What differentiates this crisis, Coghlan said, is that the impacts are global.
"I think what you're going to see is a year to 18 months after this hits its apex. I think that that's when you're going to start to see the real uptick in emotional needs. And then hopefully not potentially suicides," he said.
Steve Casstevens, the head of the International Association of Chiefs of Police told ABC News that police officers have a lot to deal with during COVID-19.
"I think you're going to see ... the same because we are trained professionals that need to respond to the call, fix a problem, respond to the next call, fix a problem, respond to the next call and fix a problem. Then we have to go home and fix our problems at home. And then we do it over and over again," Casstevens said. "We don't have time to just sit back and reflect on the dangers of the day."
Casstevens, who is also the police chief in Buffalo Grove, Illinois, stressed that it is "absolutely critical" for police departments to provide multiple avenues for an officer to seek help.
"That sometimes means, simply talking to your police chaplain, because some people are more comfortable talking to a faith-based person or you must have a peer support group established in your department because some officers don't want to talk to the chaplain, but they're more comfortable talking to one of their peers or a third avenue," he said
He said that those options come from the top — from courageous chiefs and executive staff.
Law enforcement groups say the continued toll of the novel coronavirus especially hits home for the law enforcement community now because it is Police Week, an annual gathering of law enforcement officials that usually takes place in Washington, D.C., and honors fallen officers.
Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.) a former police chief, spearheaded the Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Act, which was signed into law in 2018. The bill provides resources to address mental health challenges faced by members of law enforcement.
"Law enforcement officers risk their lives every day to keep us safe, but now every encounter potentially carries the risk of infection," Demings said. "And even as they worry about keeping their communities safe, they, like all of us, are also worried about the health and safety of their families. We have a responsibility to keep our officers safe from both the physical and mental dangers of the job. That means providing the training, personal protective equipment, counseling, and support that they need."
The emphasis from law enforcement groups now more than ever is mental health.
The Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association Foundation said it is asking all of its chapters and lodges to perform a virtual roll call to check in with their members on sick leave.
"Camaraderie can be chicken soup for an officer's soul, and that is why I am asking our great national law enforcement organizations to initiate virtual rolls calls of their sick members. This proactive initiative would add to the mental health services law enforcement is offering," Jon Adler, a former Justice Department official and president of FLEOA, said in a release.
In an effort to boost morale during the pandemic, Blue Help, a nonprofit group that tracks law enforcement suicides, asked departments what they needed most — and they responded that they needed PPE and coffee, so along with their partners, Blue Help sent coffee and gloves to police departments in 49 states.
"During this pandemic, officers find themselves under more pressure than ever before," Nick Greco, a Blue HELP board member, told ABC News. "Not only are they dealing with an unknown, unseen enemy, but the daily stress of the job itself. Now more than ever, officer mental health and wellness must be a priority. Officers should utilize their peer support programs, EAP [emergency assistance program], or seek out counseling from private providers. Reducing stress and anxiety is a challenge that can be dealt with through eating healthy, drinking more water, taking walks or even simply getting fresh air during a shift to clear one's mind."
Chuck Wexler of the Police Executive Research Forum told ABC News that many first responders will need support.
"There's no question that police officers, health workers, ambulance drivers are being subjected to enormous trauma, which really underscores the importance of providing them with mental health support in the days and years ahead," he told ABC News.
This article originally appeared on abc News.
Protect Yourself by Documenting Your Coronavirus Exposures
By Jon Adler
FLEOA Foundation President
Does anyone know what the long-term impact on your health will be if you’re exposed to someone manifesting the coronavirus (COVID-19) symptoms? On behalf of 9/11 First Responders who were exposed to lethal toxins, I can tell you the resounding answer is no. While the experts are preaching about the need to use soap and water, gloves, hand sanitizers, and social distancing to protect yourself, it is equally important for you to document your exposure to this potentially fatal virus. I understand that documenting is as inspiring as moving a kidney stone, but all active law enforcement must record their exposure and save copies of their reports.
My concern lies in how officers who are symptomatic of the coronavirus now will be able to substantiate its impact on their health in the future. Current data indicates that a low percentage of those who get COVID-19 will die. However, as a 9/11 First Responder, I learned the hard way how important it is for a law enforcement officer to document their exposure to something that could impact their health later. To validate this concern, please consider a recent statement made by renowned forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Baden regarding those who may get the coronavirus: “We don’t know how many people will have scarring in the lungs that will be present five, 10, 15 years from now and cause shortness of breath and illness then” (Fox News 3/22/20). Please heed this caution: document your exposure now so you will have proof later if needed.
This recommendation has been reinforced strongly by Ed Mullins who is the NYPD Sergeants Benevolent Association president. Ed has done a great job disseminating officer safety information to his members at the onset of this pandemic. In a March 22, 2020 membership email, Ed reinforced the need to document virus exposure by stating, “As we have learned from our experience during 9/11, department records may become difficult to locate. You should not rely on the Department to maintain your reports.” As a fellow 9/11 First Responder, Ed understands that officers need more than soap and gloves to protect their future health.
How else can documentation come into play in an officer’s future? As the former director of the Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), I oversaw the Public Safety Officer Benefits (PSOB) program. This federal program administers one-time payments to the survivors of a fallen public safety officer killed in the line of duty, and to an officer who is permanently and totally disabled as the result of a catastrophic injury (www.psob.gov). As of October 1, 2019, that amount is $365,670. The Public Safety Officers Benefits Act of 1976, along with its subsequent amendments, states that the cause of death or disability must be “the direct and proximate result of an injury sustained in the line of duty.” In my former position, I agonized over reviewing director appeals where there was no documentation to support the assertion that the death or disability was caused by an undocumented past incident or sequence of prior toxin exposure. I pray none of you suffer in the future from your coronavirus exposure today, but I urge you to be prepared by preserving documentation that substantiates this.
In addition to serving as the BJA Director, I also served on the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF) Names Committee. This is the group that reviews and determines requests to have a fallen officer’s name engraved on the National Law Enforcement Officer’s Memorial Wall in Washington, DC. Similar in substance to the PSOB criteria, the NLEOMF requires that an officer’s death is the “direct and proximate” result of a line of duty injury. In response to the growing number of 9/11 death claims, the NLEOMF has honored over 100 first responders by engraving their names on the sacred wall. Unfortunately, for cases where there is no documentation to substantiate an officer’s exposure to 9/11 toxins, those officer’s names remain under review. I don’t want any law enforcement officer to die or become disabled from medical ailments associated with coronavirus exposure, but if the ultimate sacrifice or disability were to occur in the future, I want to ensure those officers receive the honors they deserve.
Whether you are on patrol, working in a correctional facility or functioning in an investigative capacity, you need to document your exposure to anyone who is symptomatic of COVID-19. When it comes to documenting your exposure, less is not more. Document the date, time, and place of occurrence, as well as your proximity to the alleged contaminated subject, what you observed in terms of their symptoms, and any witnesses. Sadly, this is going to be a daily occurrence for many officers. If you document this in your memo books, preserve them or make copies. If you complete a daily action report, save a copy for your personal file. This should include the signature of your supervisor. For those of you, like me who are not super tech savvy, get a large folder and label it COVID-19 Exposure. The goal is to keep copies of your documentation in one place. Truthfully, this folder may wind up in your storage, but it will be easy to retrieve in the event you or your family needs it.
As a result of the increasing number of state shelter-in-place orders, civilian tensions will likely escalate. This will increase the chances of your possibly intervening in a matter while off-duty. While functioning in your off-duty capacity, you will likely not be carrying a memo book or interview notebook. Please use whatever means you have to document your exposure to anyone demonstrating symptoms associated with the coronavirus. For the purposes of documentation, please treat it the same as an on-duty incident. Make sure you share your documentation with your department or agency so that it is official. Documentation is the best insurance policy you and your family can have to ensure you are protected in the future.Irrespective of how much longer the coronavirus lasts, its wrath will be felt for years to come. Please keep a loaded pen and charged phone in reach so you can document your exposure timely and thoroughly. As you continue to keep the citizenry safe, I will pray for your safety and your wellness. Every government’s primary responsibility is to keep its citizen’s safe, and this is accomplished only through the risks you take and your sacrifice.
Please protect your future and document your exposure today.