After a year of heavy police scrutiny, resignations and burnout rates in police departments have risen exponentially. In addition to being a cultural response to notable inequities in policing, these changes may represent a mixture of pandemic-induced stress and mental health issues for officers such as PTSD, anxiety, and depression, as well as suicide risk. In some cases, officers - in this case a dispatcher - are able to navigate the high-risk scenarios they face with bravery and efficiency. Despite a number of apparent successes, the inherent trauma of this work often severely impacts both the officers and the civilians involved in these dangerous and fast-paced situations. This article describes the modern challenges law enforcement are facing and discusses the need for more mental health resources for the community along with the officers, with the hope being that these services can result in a more effective and equitable law enforcement system.
In many instances, PTSD can foster a bodily response of being alert to threats which encourages officers to be over-reactive in scenarios that may not even be violent to begin with, but can quickly become so. Initiatives to specifically train police officers in these types of encounters are now widespread thanks to the efforts of state-wide organizations such as the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. The Savannah Police department is following their lead by increasing police training for de-escalation strategies under a new Behavioral Health Unit focused on mental health related instances. The Johns Creek and Brookhaven Police Departments have also recognized the need for mental health services in policing. They have recently hired a mental health professional to assist the officer with calls from or about someone in a mental health crisis. This article discusses how integrating the perspective of a clinician into police interactions can transform interactions between people in need and the institutions that intend to serve them.
Other public service organizations are imagining the future of policing, not only in scenarios of mental health, but also substance abuse, homelessness, and poverty. Listen to NPR’s WABE speak with the Atlanta-based Policing Alternatives and Diversion (PAD) Initiative, who believe that these unique situations need to be met with empathetic solutions, not punishment. By recognizing the impact of mental health on systems of policing and incarceration, Georgia is equipping itself for less tragic deaths and mistrust between communities and nearby police departments. In addition to harm-reduction, these approaches can increase the wellbeing of police officers and civilians by offering life-altering resources and support.
To learn more about how to incorporate a trauma-informed framework into a range of institutions, take a look at our training roadmap, which offers sector specific trainings and resources for your convenience.
ABOUT US: Resilient Georgia is a statewide coalition of more than 100 partners and 600 stakeholders committed to building a stronger, more resilient Georgia. Through a network of public and private partners, Resilient Georgia is creating a pipeline of trauma-informed behavioral health services and resources that support child and family wellness. This integrated system includes prevention, early intervention, research, advocacy and policy, and System of Care implementation and coordination. For more information about our work, check out the Resilient Georgia website. You can also find us on social media: @resilientgeorgia on Instagram and @resilientga on Facebook.