THE INTERNATIONAL Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), which has 20,000 members in about 100 countries, is focusing more attention on officer safety through a new initiative—the Center for Officer Safety and Wellness. The center combines several ongoing programs that were previously spread out among some 40 active subject-specific committees and 15 policy sections.
The problem with the previous committee-centric approach was “that it was by its very nature diffuse,” says the IACP’s Gene Voegtlin. And that made it “somewhat difficult [to] view [these issues] in a comprehensive fashion.”
The four areas that the center will focus on are the following: violence against police; injuries sustained by police, traffic safety from various sources and the general category of officer wellness, which also covers a wide range of issues, such as suicide.
Voegtlin stresses that this center not only examines what happens to the officer on the job, but it also looks at factors that could affect officer wellness off the job, such as finances, home life, and post-retirement life. “Decades of working as a law enforcement officer does have some long-term health effects,” says Voegtlin.
A major goal of the center is to prevent officer suicide. IACP Executive Director Bart R. Johnson says it’s traditionally been a challenge to get police departments to speak out about suicide; it’s been something they have been private about. The center’s Web site estimates that 140 officers commit suicide each year, and some figures put that number as high as 300 officers a year, says Voegtlin. That “is far and away above the number of officers that are feloniously assaulted and killed each year,” he notes. “So it’s an issue that obviously deserves some critical attention and focus.” In addition to suicide prevention, the general issue of officer mental health is an area that Voegtlin says needs to be particularly focused on by the IACP.
Another goal of the center is to promote a cultural commitment to safety. Voegtlin says that the IACP is uniquely situated to make those changes, because it counts the highest ranked officers in departments as its members. Johnson says the group provides a one-stop-shop for departments to go to for information on products, trends, and equipment, and he adds that the group does have the power to effect change on higher levels, such as in the U.S. Congress.
“We elevate the topic and make sure that it receives the attention that it needs,” says Johnson. For example, following the recent school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, Johnson says the IACP interacted with lawmakers on Capitol Hill. It supported appointing a new head for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), which was done in January when President Obama nominated acting ATF Director B. Todd Jones to be the formal head of the agency. (The position had been vacant for years). Johnson says IACP also supported limiting rounds contained in an ammunition magazine to 10, a recommendation subsequently made by President Obama.
The center will also continue the IACP’s focus on developing partnerships and sponsorships with the private sector, both companies and organizations, to help the cause of officer wellness. For example, DuPont Kevlar is one of the IACP’s partners in creating awareness about body armor in the program called Saved by the Vest. Target has been another major industry partner, according to Johnson.
There are also many lessons “that can be learned from the private sector in...how they establish their cultures of safety in their corporate environments,” Voegtlin says, adding that “hopefully that’s something that can translate over to the law enforcement community.”