#79: Police Officer Safety & Wellness

August 25, 2021 | 47 minutes  20 seconds

Jill James is joined by Jessica Toliver, who works as the Director of Technical Assistance at an independent research organization that focuses on critical issues in policing. Jessica explains her role in researching issues and providing best practice policies to agencies that need "technical assistance". Police funding and resource management are topics that this research organization tackles continuously. Jill uncovers the daily challenges that officers face when it comes to available resources, mental health, and finding an outlet. Officer wellness is an ongoing project, but Jess and her team continue working to improve how police services reach the public.

Show Notes and Links

Building and Sustaining an Officer Wellness Program: Lessons Learned from the San Diego Police Department

https://www.policeforum.org/assets/SanDiegoOSW.pdf

The rest of the free reports can be found here:

https://www.policeforum.org/free-online-documents

Labor and Management Roundtable Discussions Publication regarding seat belt and body armor usage:

https://cops.usdoj.gov/RIC/Publications/cops-p325-pub.pdf

PERF bio:

https://www.policeforum.org/jessica-toliver

Transcript

Jill:

This is the Accidental Safety Pro brought to you by HSI. This episode was recorded August 12th, 2021. My name is Jill James, HSI's Chief Safety Officer. And today I'm joined by Jessica Toliver Director of the Technical Assistance Division at the Police Executive Research Forum. The Police Executive Research Forum or PERF as it's known is an independent research organization that focuses on critical issues in policing. Since its founding in 1976, PERF has identified best practices on fundamental issues such as reducing police use of force, developing community policing and problem oriented policing, using technologies to deliver police services to the community and evaluating crime reduction strategies. PERF strives to advance professionalism in policing and to improve the delivery of police services through the exercise of strong national leadership, public debate of police and criminal justice issues and research and policy development. Jessica is joining us today from the District of Columbia where the cicada are doing what they do every 10 years. It's 10 years, right Jessica?

Jessica:

Well, this brood was every 17 years, thankfully.

Jill:

17 years, that's right. I'm sorry. What was I thinking?

Jessica:

This particular brood.

Jill:

17 years. Well, welcome to the show, Jessica. I hope you don't have any cicada with you right now.

Jessica:

Thank you. Not at the moment. At least I don't think so.

Jill:

Excellent. Well, I'm really curious about your work particularly your title as Technical Assistance Director at PERF. And I probably need to keep saying this again because who can catch onto this, right? PERF stands for Police Executive Research Forum.

Jessica:

Yes.

Jill:

So you're the Technical Assistance Director. What does that mean?

Jessica:

So PERF is a small nonprofit in Washington, DC, and we're sometimes referred to as a think tank. We have a few different divisions in PERF and technical assistance means that I research issues and then provide hands-on assistance to agencies that need, "technical assistance" to address these challenges and identify practices, lessons learned that will help them perform better. So I mean, my team... Small team, because we are a small organization usually has a workload of about eight different projects we're working on at one time. And they range from improving homicide investigations to assessing officer safety and wellness, programming at different agencies, improving immigration outreach or implementing new policies for technologies like facial recognition, drones, body-worn cameras. We do a lot of emerging issues, research and application.

Jill:

Hmm. Fascinating. And so does your team, or do you work with people directly in the field or is it a kind of a mixture of both and how you engage with would you call them your clients?

Jessica:

Yeah, so were also a membership organization. We have about 3,500 members. And so the way it works is my projects are funded by the Department of Justice mostly. Different components, the COPS office, the Bureau of Justice Assistance, the National Institute of Justice. We've had grants from the FBI, DHS. And so there is a scope of work that we need to do. And we'll say, "We have funding to help agencies like for homicide investigations for example, we have funding for agencies that are experiencing an increasing homicide rate and a decreasing clearance rate. If you want our assistance with addressing this issue and improving your homicide investigations, please send us an application." And so we'll post that on our website, social media, we have a PERF Daily clips that we send to all of our members. And those are usually shared widely within an agency.

If the chief is a member he'll then forward it to everybody. But then we'll have applications and then we choose which agencies qualify for our assistance. We do the same for our officer's safety and wellness projects. And then for other projects, we'll have for like body-worn cameras, when we were developing policy recommendations, we'll do an informal survey of our members and we'll find out who has the technology and what they're doing with it. And then that way we identify the best practices. Then we identify academic research on the issue and we find out what we should be looking for when we're interviewing these agencies. Then we'll bring together a group of like 250 chief executives, stakeholders, researchers in a room and really hash out what the policy should be. And we talk through what's working what doesn't work. And then we'll draft a publication and release that to the members, put it on our website and agencies can just pick that up and use it. And then if we get additional followup funding, we can actually go into the agency and help them implement the policies we recommend.

Jill:

Sounds like important work. And I'm curious to know, how is it that you came to this work. And I want to dig back later, but I'm curious to hear how you did this work, but I'm really interested in the officer safety and wellness piece as well. But if you wouldn't mind all of our guests take time to talk about their career path or their life path that led them to the work that they're doing at the present moment. So I'm curious, Jessica, how is it that you came into this work and where did it all start? What sort of seed was planted and grew in you to lead you this way?

Jessica:

Sure. Yeah. It's a winding road. I'll have to take you back to the 1990s when I was applying for colleges. And at that point in time, I knew I wanted to affect change. I just wanted to have a positive impact in the world. And I loved to write, so I was going to get a journalism degree. I was looking at schools that had a good journalism program and I went to University of Richmond and chose journalism as my major. And then I started taking other classes and discovered political science. And I thought, "Okay, maybe in addition to some investigative reporting, I can be a lawyer." So I decided to double major, and now I'm doing journalism and political science. And then I picked up a minor in women's studies because why not? And-

Jill:

I have the same minor.

Jessica:

... Oh, neat. So then we have-

Jill:

I would've majored, but I needed to get out of college.

Jessica:

... I know, right?

Jill:

I would have double majored.

Jessica:

I was like, "Two majors and a minor." And then I did internships every summer and semester to kind of find where my passions lie. And after doing internships, I was like, "I'm really passionate about political science, criminal justice." And I had this fantastic professor and I was telling him, "I think I'm going to apply to law schools and go straight to law school." And he said, "Do me a favor, before you do this, before you continue down this path, I want you to go work for some law firm, whether it be here in Richmond or DC. I want you to do as much pro bono work as you can so you get exposure to the criminal justice system and then decide what you would like to do with your life." So I took his advice. His name is Dr. Bill Swinford. I'm just going to give him a shout out right now because we still talk. He is still in my life. He is a wonderful human being and I will alert him that I've done this.

Jill:

Hooray for excellent mentors.

Jessica:

Yes.

Jill:

Maybe we know them, may we be them.

Jessica:

He is a mentor to many, he's just an all around fantastic human. So I went to Washington DC and got a job as a legal assistant at a big law firm in Washington, DC, and did government contracts and litigation and won Pro Bono of The Year Award several years in a row because I took his advice. And when you do pro bono at one of those large firms that the attorneys give you free reign, they're like here, "Look at this and do the research and do it." So you were basically an attorney.

So I did all this and I worked a lot of overtime preparing for big litigation cases and all that. And by the end of the second year, I had decided, "Yeah, this is not what I want to do with my life. I'm not going to be able to impact the world being in these golden handcuffs at a big law firm and nor will I be able to make a big impact as my dream as a prosecutor, because I was seeing the system firsthand." And I knew that I would just be frustrated and jaded within the first few years just seeing the cycle over and over. Just the two years that I was down there, I was already upset. So I just figure out what I was going to do. Like, "What can I do?"

So I started researching master's degrees and settled on public policy. Researched the universities that offered the best programs and ended up going to the Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan. They have some great dual degrees you can do there like social work and health and law degrees. And they did not have criminal justice though. So I did just public policy masters, but took as many criminal justice focused courses as I could, and was hoping that would get me in the door at some sort of big brand or Brookings Institute, some sort of research organization. And when I graduated with that degree, it was soon after 9/11 and so homeland security was the major issue that everybody was addressing and that's where all the jobs were. And I ended up taking a position at the National Governors Association in their Homeland Security Division.

Jill:

Interesting, okay.

Jessica:

but there it was fantastic organization, fantastic work, but it was you're working with the Homeland Security Advisers for governors and it was too high. I was too far away. I couldn't see impact, I couldn't see results. One to be more in the weeds. And so soon after I think I was there for less than a year I was recruited by a director at the Police Executive Research Forum. He was a director of the Homeland Security Division, which no longer exists at PERF, but he recruited me to work there and it was my dream job. I got to work on many different issues. I got to see the impact we were having. I worked hand in hand with the officers on the street and with their executives, setting policies and identifying best practices and improving the field of policing and criminal justice. So I knew that's where I was meant to be and I was very happy. I was there for three years and then I had babies and that was there-

Jill:

Other things.

Jessica:

... Not a very flexible work-life balance/policies there. So I took a consulting job and worked as a consultant for Department of Homeland Security. And I was running the national technical assistance program for our fusion centers, which is state and local law enforcement sitting together with federal law enforcement representatives all in the same place so they could share information and establish programs together. Did that for three years and then PERF called and said, "Would you like to come back here?" And so I've been back there for nine years and now we're to present.

Jill:

Wow. Yes. What a winding journey?

Jessica:

It was.

Jill:

Yeah. So backing up to what you were talking about in the begi... You were identifying all these multiple projects that you work on with your current role. And it sounds like you have two favorites that you had identified with me before, officer safety and wellness and homicide investigation. And I'm wondering could you maybe dig into both of those and because our audiences is health and safety professionals really want to hear about that officer safety and wellness, and what does that mean and how do you do what you do?

Jessica:

Yeah, absolutely. I will tell you that those are my two favorites because A, you see the biggest impact and immediate impact from the results of the assessment. Both of those are very hands-on, you go into the agency that is requesting assistance and you look at all of their policies and you identify where there are gaps and where there's opportunities for improvement.

Jill:

And so that step, was that step one?

Jessica:

Yes.

Jill:

And the goal. So you start out with an eight with an agency. Do you know what your goal is at the outset?

Jessica:

Yes.

Jill:

Is the goal established by you or is the goal established by the agency you're working with?

Jessica:

So it's usually established in the project grant scope of work. You will assess at least five to 10 agencies, and you will assist them with implementing the recommendations to improve their homicide investigations or to improve their officer safety and wellness programming.

Jill:

Got it, okay.

Jessica:

So it's a multi-step approach. We have the ability to request our assistance. Then we choose the agency. Then we request their policies, so we can review those and identify the gaps and opportunities. And then we go onsite and we conduct interviews with the folks who work there because something can be written, but not actually followed. And there can be things that are being done that are not written. So it's good to get in there and actually get a lay of the land and see how people are communicating with each other, how much the rules are followed, how much of the policies are followed. If policies need to be updated, people need to be trained on them. They may be there, but nobody's even aware of them.

Jill:

Yeah. I mean, that's very familiar to the listeners of this podcast. Any health and safety practitioner knows that there can be lots of things written, or like you said, unwritten that are not being followed for various reasons, or, "Hey, we just needed to have this policy and it's sitting in the proverbial three ring binder collecting dust."

Jessica:

Exactly.

Jill:

Yeah, okay.

Jessica:

Yup. So then we take all of that. And we put together a report, a findings and recommendations report. "Here's the topic, here's what we identified and here's what you need to do to get up to the standard of best practices." And then we create some sort of matrix with a timeline and recommended steps for each goal and all that.

Jill:

And how are the best practices established or who establishes them or does it depend on the agency you're working with?

Jessica:

Yeah, so we usually put together a team. I will go onsite with another PERF team member, but also subject matter experts. And those are practitioners who have done this sort of work before. They're usually retired chiefs or homicide commanders, known researchers. And these academic researchers have spent years studying homicide investigations and they've identified, "Okay, you're most successful if you are only assigned three or four homicides to investigate per year," because otherwise they find you're not focused, you're spread too thin. So then things fall through the cracks. You need to have certain tools like crime analysis. If you don't have crime analysis and you're just doing the door to door, knocking, witness interviews and things of that nature, then you're missing out on a bunch of potential clues that can lead you to the perpetrator. So we have a list of things that we're looking for to see if they have those policies and technologies and tools in place. And it's kind of like a comparison checklist.

Jill:

Sure. What's your favorite part of that work? Is it mining through the policies? Is it the interviews and talking with the people who do the work, what is your favorite part?

Jessica:

I mean, it is all of the above I mean, for different reasons. So for the homicide investigations project, we talk to everybody from the 911 call taker all the way to the ME's office. So-

Jill:

An ME for people who don't live in that land?

Jessica:

The... Sorry, medical examiner's office.

Jill:

Medical Examiner. Okay.

Jessica:

So, sorry.

Jill:

It's okay.

Jessica:

So, I mean, you're learning the expertise of each of these team members and you're getting the viewpoint from different stages of the investigation. And it's just fascinating to me to talk to people what their job is and how they do things. For officer's safety and wellness, for those projects it's more taxing to do these interviews, but also more rewarding because we're personally speaking with people and we're saying, "Look what are your struggles and what would help you? And what would get to talk to a peer counselor, what would get to talk to a chaplain?"

And as we're doing these things and trying to figure out what sort of programs will help the personnel at a particular agency, they'll often start opening up to us about the challenges that they're having. And some of them are very personal. Some of them are work-related, but a lot are a byproduct of the stress that they endure through their jobs, and it's affecting their personal relationships and home lives. And it's very rewarding to know that my work is going to help them cope better and do their job better and improve their relationships, ideally.

Jill:

Jessica, could you talk with us more about officer safety and wellness and like how you define that and what that means, and in the context of that work, what does the safety entail? What does the wellness part entail?

Jessica:

Okay. Yeah, no problem. So a comprehensive safety and wellness program will address what is typically referred to as the components of the three legged stool, which is physical, emotional, and spiritual. So for the physical part you're looking at dealing with high blood pressure, people who sit in cars all day, so they get back pain and some become obese. So you need to address those physical factors. And then for safety, you want to make sure that your officers are wearing bulletproof vests and seat belts. And you would think that this is, I mean, normal, and everybody does this, but they do not for a number of reasons. We've had actually several meetings about this between union reps and police executives about this particular safety issue. Bulletproof vests are very heavy and hot and uncomfortable to sit in.

And if you are walking around doing community policing or you're getting in and out of your car, it's very restrictive and hot. So there's a lot of people who don't want to wear them, and there's a lot of unions that will say, "Look, you need to buy us better vest if you want us to wear them all the time," and it's very valid points. Seatbelts, there are some people who say, "If I need to jump out of the car, I can't have my seatbelt holding me back. What if I get stuck on it?"

Jill:

The people who are traditional safety and health practitioners are like, "Oh my gosh, we talk about this all the time." This is like a tired old adage almost like with the forklift operators and seatbelts and truck drivers, and interesting to hear that it's not exclusive to certain types of industries. Yes, please go on.

Jessica:

Well, no, that is super interesting. I want to hear more why do truckers not want to wear seatbelts because they're not hopping in and out chasing a suspect. So what is their reason?

Jill:

I mean, those would be things that I think would have been addressed so many years ago. When I started in health and safety, 27 years ago, the first project I worked on was seatbelts.

Jessica:

How fascinating.

Jill:

Isn't that funny?

Jessica:

Yes.

Jill:

And that was working with the Department of Transportation. So-

Jessica:

Interesting.

Jill:

... people who are doing road work and things, so really an emphasis. Really an emphasis at that time on that. I'm not here to say that I think there's a problem with seatbelt use in the trucking industry. I can neither confirm nor deny that. I just know that seatbelt use is something that comes up and it comes up apparently regardless occupation and type of vehicle too. So trucks versus police cruisers or whatever they are referred to these days or a forklift.

Jessica:

Interesting. Okay. Yeah.

Jill:

Yes. So please go on. You're talking about safety. Are there other items within the...

Jessica:

The physical, the safety part of the physical, then the mental and emotional is you want the agency personnel to overcome the stigma of asking for help. And so this part of this comprehensive safety and wellness programming is marketing. You need to market the resources that are available to the agency personnel and really sell it to them. Why should they take advantage of these tools? One of the things I've seen there are several different conferences on officer safety and wellness that I've been to. There's a yearly meeting that COPS and BJA COPS... I'm sorry, it's the Community Oriented Policing Services. I always get it, our Office of Community Oriented Policing Services and BJA is Bureau of Justice Assistance.

Jill:

Thank you.

Jessica:

So yes, I often forget what the acronyms.

Jill:

There are so many acronyms in the work, in all of our jobs. And health and safety same thing.

Jessica:

Yeah. It's like alphabet soup.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative), it is.

Jessica:

So COPS and BJA had been putting on this safety and wellness group meeting once a year for the past decade. And it's great. They have practitioners, they have physicians, they have psychologists, we all come together and we talk about the particular challenges that the industry is facing this year. Some great new resources and policies and tools and whatnot. But one of the things that struck me and I wish I could remember which speaker said this or which conference I saw it at was, "You need to think of your brain as any other part of your body. If you injure your arm, you go to a doctor, you get it looked at, you address the problem so it can heal properly. And that may include physical therapy taking time off, et cetera."

Jessica:

So you need to be trained to think of your brain the same way. Trauma is injury to your brain. It impacts you, so you have to get help. And so part of offering a suite of tools and resources is allowing the individual to decide, "What does that help look like?" Maybe it's a peer counselor, maybe it's an EAP counselor, the Employee Assistance Program counselor, or a police chaplain, which are non-denominational, but usually have seats in the precincts or headquarters and private places for you to speak with them, or they'll do ride along so that you can have a confidential conversation with them, with nobody listening to you. But they're a resource for you to confide in and get assistance, get advice, whatever or you can use your insurance to go to a psychologist of your choosing. But the point is that you're using resources that are available to you and addressing whatever is injured.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Interesting. So Jessica can you talk about the importance of officer safety and wellness at this moment in time?

Jessica:

Yes. So 2020 and 2021 have been quite challenging for everybody, for police for a number of reasons. We can start with the national narrative which is very critical of police right now. And that's resulting in retention issues because there's low morale recruitment issues because there's low public respect for police and burnout by those that are there. And by burnout, I mean lack of enthusiasm and motivation for the job, because they're just weary of it all. They're dealing with civil unrest and protests where people are protesting them, yelling at them. And in addition to that, during the pandemic many of us got to work from home, but they're first responders.

So they're working and being exposed potentially before vaccinations, of course, they're being exposed to COVID-19. And then they're concerned about bringing that home to their family members, or they have ill family members, and they're trying to take care of them and put their job on hold and quarantine, or they have childcare issues because as we know, the schools were closed and preschools and all of that. On top of that, you have lack of support in some cities, from the mayors and the city managers. And so they're feeling like they're not supported anywhere, right? The community's not supporting them, their city government may not be supporting them. Sometimes they feel like the chief executive isn't supporting them because they're trying to be political and they have sickness on top of that.

So it's just right now, it's especially hard for them because this is on top of the normal, typical trauma that a police officer sees, which is a lot. I think people don't really think about it. You call the police for many reasons. Like you think somebody is breaking into your house, or somebody stole your bike or something like that. But you don't realize is that that police officer may be coming from another call where there was a crib death or a suicide, or any number of traumatic things, an accident. And they're seeing people at their worst most of the time. And there is a cumulative impact on their physical and mental wellbeing, because if they're not addressing the trauma through counseling, then what can happen is they overeat or they start drinking to numb the pain or they cheat on their spouses and partners because they need an outlet. And then that ruins their marriage. I mean, it just can be a downhill spiral if we don't offer them resources and encourage them to use them.

Jill:

Yeah. And you know what, I think that's something that most people can relate to when it comes to people who work in emergency response of various types. And whether those of us who are health and safety professionals who have ever dealt with a workplace death or a serious injury, that's a traumatic event. Many people listening have dealt with one or many myself included and the number of deaths and serious injuries I've investigated in my time as a health and safety professional tops over 50.

Jessica:

Oh wow.

Jill:

And they're all stories that are stored in me and in my psyche, right?

Jessica:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jill:

And, and that's just so many people who are working frontlines in terms of emergency response, whether it's police, fire, rescue workers of any type, paramedics, they experience all of these things and they're stored in the body. And so what do they do with that? What do they do with that kind of trauma? Yeah, understood. Thanks for identifying that.

Jessica:

Okay.

Jill:

So Jessica, the work that you're doing at present is... I'm guessing the work that you're doing isn't something that's widespread throughout the nation. I'm guessing you're not working with every single department.

Jessica:

Right.

Jill:

And you had mentioned earlier about grant writing-

Jessica:

Oh, yeah.

Jill:

... and membership to this organization that you belong to. How many departments or cities take advantage of the kind of assistance that you can offer? Is it widespread? Is it small?

Jessica:

Oh, well, because PERF is so small. There's about 25 full-time personnel at PERF and my team is a team of four and then we add our SMEs. We can't be in many places at one time.

Jill:

Sure.

Jessica:

So often a grant will allow us to, depending on the size of the grant, like our homicide investigation grants allowed us to do five agency assessments per three year period. And our officer safety and wellness grant allowed us to do three agency assessments in a two year period. But we want then to reach as many agencies as possible who couldn't get the hands-on assistance by capturing general findings and recommendations in a practitioner guidebook. So right now I have one that's the result of the three agency assessments I did for officer safety and wellness. I put together this general findings and steps you can take, sort of a blueprint for agencies that they can use to get started.

It's with the COPS office right now. It should be published any day. And then we have one for the homicide investigations already. That's been published.

Jill:

Yes. So about the report you just were publishing.

Jessica:

Yes. So that report will be published any day by the COPS office, but several years ago, what sort of kicked off our officer safety and wellness project work was I was at a conference and heard a speaker talk about San Diego's Wellness Unit, which is not something that I'd ever heard of before. And to my knowledge, no other agency has a comprehensive wellness unit that San Diego PD does. I know there's a lot of agencies that now have wellness programs and a wellness committee, but this is like a full time unit where people are assigned to be there 24/7 and offer assistance, all different types of assistance to agency personnel. And I was fascinated by this. Like, "How was this developed, who is chosen to be in this unit, who takes advantage of this resource?"

And so I drafted a proposal to the COPS office, and they sometimes have discretionary funding where they can fund a proposal that wasn't in their list of solicitations that they release each year, where they have specific scope of work guidelines that you have to apply for. And so this was a discretionary funding item and I said, "I would love to do a case study of this. I want to go in, I want to look at how this was developed and document it." And so that was done several years ago and that publication exists on the PERF website right now. And I know it's widely used because you could just pick and choose different components of it to implement depending on how big your agency is and the monetary and personnel resources you have.

Jill:

So we'll be sure to share that in the show notes. And I just want to give a shout out to our listeners right now, the people who do the work of workplace health and safety are in every industry imaginable, including police departments, including Sheriff's departments. And they probably have different job titles, but if anyone listening is one of those people know that these are resources that Jessica is talking about is accessible, obviously, but for anyone else, who's listening is like, "I have a friend who does that, and they might not know about it," please pass that information. Knowledge is power, right? And you're just saying that you identified one place that has this wellness program, that's fantastic. And you've done a report on it.

Jessica:

Yeah. It's super interesting. I'm constantly impressed by the people that I find in this field and the innovative things that they're doing. I admire their work greatly.

Jill:

So you go through this process with your team and with the entity that you're working with, and then there are things to implement.

Jessica:

Yes.

Jill:

Talk about how does that work and what have you seen as a result of that once implemented?

Jessica:

So yeah, that's the next steps, right? So I give them this assessment and I'm like, "Here's what you need to do. Here's a spreadsheet, so you can track all your work." And I don't just then leave them high and dry. I say, "Okay, here are some great policies for peer counseling. Here's some training I've identified that are free and accessible. Here are hotlines that you should advertise. Here's an example of a newsletter that this agency does and sends out and here's the format for us, so you don't have to recreate wheel." And I have this repository of resources that I try and share, and I have all different sorts of policies that I will provide to any agency that requests it. And these are usually identified by the practitioners in the field at these conferences that have studied these policies and identify why their best practices. And so it's not just, I think they're great even though I do.

But yeah. And so, for example I'll recommend as a first step, do you need to survey your audience, you need to survey your personnel, find out what resources do they want to see. And so you don't have to create that. I have copies of surveys that other agencies have done, and I'll get that and provide it to the agency for them. So I want to make sure that it's not a heavy lift when I leave, that they have the tools they need to implement the resources I recommend. So there's financial wellness trainings out there. There's funding resources, if I they don't have an in-house psychologist, but they think that's something that they want to implement. So I give them resources for, "Here are certain grants you can apply for, here's some private organizations I know have funded similar things." Yeah, so I offer that too.

Jill:

Yeah. And so you're talking about all of these policies, and gosh, we know in the work of health and safety there's piles of policies and SLPs and different procedures, and same is true in this line of work. And in the introduction I was talking about what your work does, what the organization does, and it includes developing community policing and problem solving policies. And so in some of the policy development, procedure development do some of those include things outside of a particular agency and involve community members or stakeholders, or how does that work?

Jessica:

Yeah. So for example, I'll go back to the homicide investigations. Witness cooperation is a big component of whether or not a case will be solved. So what we talk to community members when we're doing the site visit. And as I said, we talk to everybody who's tangentially involved in an investigation to find out where the breakdowns are in communication and collaboration and strengthen those areas. And so we'll interview community members and we try and identify those that have spoken out against the police. We'll look through news stories and we'll see, "Okay, well, this organization has criticized this agency. So let's meet with that. And what are their issues?" And then we'll put together recommendations for how they should conduct outreach and rebuild those broken relationships.

Jill:

Yeah. So it's not an echo chamber?

Jessica:

Right.

Jill:

Yeah. Great.

Jessica:

Yeah.

Jill:

Fabulous. So do you want to talk about some of the promising programs that you've identified or, and I don't know if you want to call it a success story or is there anything you'd like to lift up in addition to San Diego itself?

Jessica:

Yeah. I mean, they definitely were the trendsetters, but I think a lot of agencies have jumped on this bandwagon and they've realized how important it is to include these safety and wellness components in their agencies. And I've seen a lot of neat things. What works best I've found is when the executive in charge is the one leading the charge and exhibiting vulnerability. So this person is getting up in front of the troops and saying, "It's okay to not be okay, and here's when that happened to me," and sharing very personal stories because the stereotype is, "This big, burly dude, SWAT team member, and nothing bothers them and gets past them." And then somebody like that stands in front of the crowd and says, "One day I came home from work and I laid down next to my baby's crib and cried like a baby, because I was coming from a call with a dead baby."

And they walk you through their own trauma and how they got help. And that's really inspiring to certain people. For other people it allows them to feel those feelings and admit to those feelings and they realize that nobody's going to look down on them for that. And they don't have to be so macho. Just, it gets rid of that stigma and-

Jill:

A prime example of leaders leading and it's the birthplace of culture, safety culture, wellness culture.

Jessica:

So they're also peer supporters for those who have been involved in an officer involved shooting, and those peer supporters must have been through the process themselves because there's very specific practices that happen when that happens. And they know the very specific needs of the person and the trauma that they're enduring at that moment. And so I thought that was really good because a lot of people say they don't go to EAP and they don't use those resources or just go see a psychologist through their insurance because those counselors don't fully understand what they've been through. And that's really important that whoever is providing the counseling and assistance understands the viewpoint of the person that they're talking to.

Jill:

Jessica, really appreciate what you're sharing today. Are there any other resources you'd like to talk about, places to direct people or some thoughts that you have?

Jessica:

Well, I welcome anybody to look at the PERF website because I'm sure it'll be in your notes, but all the publications are free. So you can go to the free resources page and see all the publications. And there are several publications on officer safety and wellness, as well as a number of other topics that they're interested in. And the meetings that I referred to earlier between the unions and the police executives about some safety issues, those were captured in publications as well. There's two of those on there, if anybody's interested in reading more about those but you can see we really address the spectrum of issues.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative), wonderful. Thank you. You said when you were thinking about what you wanted to tackle as a college student and you were thinking about your career, you wanted to affect change. Has that happened for you? Is it still happening?

Jessica:

Yes. I do feel like I have made a difference. I mean, I wouldn't do this if I didn't feel that way. I'm much motivated by seeing the results and feeling like my work makes a difference.

Jill:

And what is more important than that?

Jessica:

Exactly.

Jill:

To feel that your work makes a difference. Fantastic. Jessica, thank you so much for coming on the show and for the work that you're doing and the work of all of your colleagues at PERF. Really appreciate it.

Jessica:

Thanks so much for having me. It was great to speak with you.

Jill:

Great to have you on. And thank you all for spending your time listening today. And more importantly, thank you for your contribution toward the common good. Making sure your workers, including your temporary workers, make it home safe every day. If you aren't subscribed and want to hear past and future episodes, you can subscribe in iTunes, the Apple Podcast app, or any other podcast player that you like. We'd love it if you could leave a rating and review us on iTunes, it really helps us connect the show with more and more safety and health professionals. Special thanks to Naeem Jaraysi our podcast producer. And until next time, thanks for listening.

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