RPD: Wellness & Resilience Unit Program in place to help officers deal with trauma and toxic stress

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — The Rochester Police Department says trauma and toxic stress are major concerns they’re seeing among officers. They’re hoping to increase awareness of their new Officer Wellness & Resilience Unit Program.

The actual kickoff for the unit was in early December, officers said now they are getting it’s an enhancement of what they’ve previously had to help deal with officers’ stress and mental health.

They say that goes hand in hand with job performance.

“I guess it starts with the changing the culture,” Cmdr. Jeffrey LaFave II said. “Being okay to talk about the stigmas and stereotypes that have kind of plagued our profession for quite some time now.”

LaFave started the program and now oversees it. He said establishing the unit is phase one and phase two is getting the team to help the officers get the help they need.

“Which they’ve already started doing that with a survey that got over 200 responses which as a department of you know 600 plus officers that’s a tremendous response we don’t usually get that kind of response when we solicit feedback,” LaFave said. “The fact that over 200 people in a one-week period responded that shows you the need that we have for it."

Twenty team members will be out in the field and available for their peers and they say it’s rare for officers to reach out to their leaders.

“I’ve been a police officer for 17 years, there’s that culture that you know you don’t feel comfortable going to your supervisor because you’re worried about oh my supervisor is going to take me out so you kind of just keep things to yourself,” Unit Resilience Investigator Ebony Brown said.

They say research has shown there is a huge need to make sure their officers are ok.

“One study shows that the average law enforcement officer across a 20-year career is exposed to 188 traumatic incidents that could result in PTSD. The average American is somewhere between 60[%] and 80% that would experience one or more of those events, the average cop is 188. Those things add up,” Unit Resilience Officer Matthew Carpenter said.

Interim Police Chief David Smith said they can see when someone isn’t doing well but they never knew how to address it because of the stigma going around.

"Day after day, you are working in this environment where you are dealing with people who are hurt and people who need help. The people you are dealing with on a daily basis it’s pretty much the worst day of their lives if they are dealing with the police and we’re there to help them. That all adds up,” Smith said. “Traditionally there hasn’t really been a diagnosis for that. We push it down, we push it down, we push it down. It affects our lives but that hasn’t been recognized."

LaFave said this program will not only help the officers, but it will be full circle in helping the community.

“When we check a year from now, we’re hoping the desired result will be a decrease in complaints, a decrease of people coming in sick and if we do that, there’s a cost-benefit to that,” LaFave said. “One it builds better relationships with the community, we have a better show rate for people who are here and that would be a fantastic argument for expansion."

LaFave said they are going to maintain this by implementing these responses to different programs to help officers and an outside group with a law enforcement background will come in and train the team on trauma.

He also said a new app will be launched where officers can anonymously message the wellness unit, take an assessment and get the officers help with whatever they need with no stigma attached.