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Tools for Law Enforcement

Tools in this section have been gathered and vetted for their usefulness and relevance to a wide range of law enforcement agencies. After completing the VT–ORG for Law Enforcement, use the VT–ORG Scoresheet and Action Plan to analyze the results and prioritize the areas of organizational health you identified as challenges. Then, use the resources and research literature in the toolkit to implement strategies to build your capacity as a vicarious trauma-informed organization.

 

We work in a time where peer support is a critical component of law enforcement—as important as our flashlight, handcuffs, weapon, or ballistic vest. There are numerous local and national support services for first responders. My humble suggestion is that we become students of our craft and never stop looking for the help that we will inevitably need. As a peer support unit director, the degree of help we provide is met with an equal responsibility to care for ourselves. To help others, we must recognize the need to help ourselves first.

Sgt. Christopher J. A. Scallon, Norfolk, Virginia, Police Department

 

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Organizational Strategies

To address the impact of vicarious trauma, leaders in vicarious trauma-informed organizations proactively integrate strategies into workplace values, operations, policies, and practices; maintain a clear vision that supports and articulates the agency's mission; and regularly model and promote open and respectful communication.

Voices From the Field

In law enforcement, fire, a lot of these organizations, change does not come unless crisis occurs. We recognized the need that we have officers that are experiencing trauma and vicarious trauma and that we need to be able to start providing services for them, things that we can do, change our culture a little bit to make that happen.

—Captain, Law Enforcement

In my unit, we have weekly staff meetings that allow us to discuss, mitigate, and identify issues with cases and the resulting stress it puts on our staff. Sharing the workload and increasing awareness of what is going on is critical to the function of our unit and our ability to manage stress.

—Re-Entry Case Manager, Law Enforcement

Open discussions start with leadership. Letting staff know that it is normal to feel and have emotions and that it is okay to ask for help. Open discussions during department meetings and individually helps change the culture. When the troops see leadership admitting to emotional and physical trauma, and sharing their experiences, both positive and negative, it opens the door. It also shows that leadership is concerned not only for their physical safety but their emotional state as well. The goal is to come out whole when we retire.

—Sheriff, Law Enforcement

What the Research Literature Tells Us

Open and transparent communication regarding organizational mission, strategy, resources, and implementation of policies and procedures provides a strong foundation within the agency. It is important for leadership to provide clear information about the "why's and how's" of decision- and policymaking, and to encourage staff "ownership" in these efforts. Leadership should also foster a culture of openness across the agency, encourage the effective exchange of feedback, and recognize the contributions and accomplishments of staff (Brondolo et al. 2008).

Compendium of Resources

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To fulfill their obligation to lessen the impact of vicarious trauma, managers and supervisors in vicarious trauma-informed organizations foster supportive relationships based on inclusivity, mutual respect, and trust; promote policies and practices that lessen the negative impact of the work; seek out and support staff following critical or acute incidents; and conduct performance evaluations that include discussions of vicarious trauma.

Voices From the Field

Guidelines for having a peer support team in place for officers involved in traumatic incidents is very useful because it gives us guidance on how to help a police officer who may be having a difficult time.

—Lieutenant, Law Enforcement

We are trying to develop a comprehensive holistic approach to officer wellness. We use and rely heavily on peer support and our private contracted psych services to deal with issues associated with vicarious trauma. As a member of our peer support team, I know from experience that a lot of our officers' issues, whether they are in their professional or private lives, stem from unaddressed vicarious trauma that has accumulated over time. I know from my experience that we need to do more, particularly in the realm of health (mental and physical), for our officers.

—Peer Support Team Leader, Law Enforcement

What the Research Literature Tells Us

Written policies and established programs help define the standard of practice that guides an organization's consistent response to its staff. They also remove stigma and feelings of subjectivity by delineating which staff will be asked to employ which strategies or programs and under what circumstances. In the first responder fields, standard orders and protocols such as Critical Incident Stress Debriefing provide clear guidance and expectations for responding to staff in the aftermath of a critical incident. In addition, in their study, Bober and Regehr (2006) found that the primary predictor of vicarious trauma is the number of hours per week staff work with traumatized individuals. Therefore, organizations can reduce their staff's exposure to trauma by developing strategies for distributing the workload to reduce trauma exposure.

Compendium of Resources

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To promote and maintain a healthy work environment, vicarious trauma-informed organizations foster teamwork; encourage collaboration both within and outside the organization; create formal and informal opportunities for staff to connect with one another; and offer opportunities to diversify job tasks.

Voices From the Field

Regular meetings of those in our unit include opportunities for us to discuss problems in our work or in how things operate and suggest solutions for leadership to consider. Also, sharing the workload and the stress on a regular basis makes us feel we have allies in the work. Having a flexible leave policy is also extremely helpful.

—Sheriff's Deputy, Law Enforcement

[We have] Correctional Officers Appreciation Week, which is a week-long recognition of staff members' dedication and hard work, with events for the week to show appreciation.

—Command Staff, Law Enforcement

What the Research Literature Tells Us

Staff who have access to their organization's strategic plans and other relevant information experience lower levels of vicarious trauma (Choi 2011). Having a voice and some influence over decisionmaking fosters a sense of ownership and empowerment, a deeper commitment to the work, greater buy-in to the mission, and a sense of confidence that one matters in the organization.

The workplace culture also is an enormously influential factor in addressing vicarious trauma because it shapes understanding of vicarious trauma as an expected and normal response to trauma exposure, which makes it easier for staff to openly seek and accept support (Bell, Kulkarni, and Dalton 2003; Slattery and Goodman 2009).

Compendium of Resources

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To strive for professional competency, capacity, and staff retention, vicarious trauma-informed organizations promote continuing education, professional development, and networking opportunities; provide thorough orientation and ongoing training; enable access to resources; and support staff participation in on- and offsite learning opportunities.

Voices From the Field

Individual strategies are insufficient. Training on job role and tasks increases competence and confidence. I've gone to trainings with local organizations that entail the work that we do in responding to child abuse. Training is critical—I have been trained in peer support and crisis intervention, and have an upcoming training on monitoring my detectives that do child pornography cases, because they seem to have a job that has many stressors because of the type of work they do. It's not something they can go home and talk to the family about at dinner. If you include the spouse in different types of training and the culture of the department, there is a much better understanding at home of what the officer goes through at work. This allows for the officer to share experiences with someone that can be empathetic.

—Commanding Officer, Child Sexual Assault Investigations, Law Enforcement

What the Research Literature Tells Us

Training on vicarious trauma benefits participants and the populations they serve, and facilitates change in the organization (Gentry, Baggerly, and Baranowsky 2003; Mishara and Martin 2012).

Compendium of Resources

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To maintain the health and wellness of their staff, vicarious trauma-informed organizations recognize links between health/wellness and staff satisfaction and productivity; devote time and resources to promoting staff well-being; encourage and provide health and wellness activities; and incorporate wellness into policies and practices.

Voices From the Field

Support among my peers is helpful immediately following a traumatic event, as is decompressing as a unit and having social functions that help us stay connected to each other. Maybe small things but they go a long way. Offsite counseling through the Employee Assistance Program is also an excellent tool overall. The individual and private attention that I receive provides long-term benefits and coping tools that I can apply to other situations.

—Crime Scene Investigator, Law Enforcement

We have an ongoing wellness strategy, and annual wellness seminars for both physical health and mental health. Professionals are brought in to discuss typical stress risk factors that present a challenge for law enforcement. The annual presentations are open to all PD employees and dispatch personnel.

—Command Staff, Law Enforcement

What the Research Literature Tells Us

Increasingly, organizations are recognizing that they can improve overall staff health by providing access to wellness activities, such as fitness, yoga, and mindfulness programs; and by supporting boundaries between work and home. For example, mindfulness programs have been found to increase compassion satisfaction and decrease compassion fatigue (Thieleman and Cacciatore 2014), and to decrease posttraumatic stress symptoms among police officers (Chopko and Schwartz 2013).

Compendium of Resources

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Related Resources

 

 

Compendium of Resources

Each of the over 500 listings in the Compendium of Resources includes the resource title, source, and author or developer, as well as a general description identifying the category, discipline, organizational strategy, topic, and CDC code, if applicable. Research literature items include full bibliographical citations.

Blueprint for a Vicarious Trauma-Informed Organization

For a step-by-step guide to strengthening your organization's response to vicarious trauma by using this toolkit, see the Blueprint for a Vicarious Trauma-Informed Organization.