Performance, Health and Recovery: An Integrated Wellness Program for Law Enforcement

Graphic representation of nervous system

October 19, 2017

Issues of officer health and wellness generally relate to the survival stress response system. The survival stress response system involves two nervous systems: the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. When a threat is perceived, the sympathetic nervous system releases adrenaline and cortisol. When the threat is perceived to be over, the parasympathetic nervous system is activated to decrease adrenaline and cortisol and all necessary physiological responses. 

These two nervous systems are firing on and off in ways that the human body was designed to do; however, not in the type of environment in which we live today. The body cannot categorize threat and does not recognize the difference between being shot at and an angry text from a boss. This ambiguity wreaks havoc on our nervous system, brain and cardiovascular health. 

High levels of cortisol deteriorate cognitive functioning and decision making. Long-term effects include depression, anxiety, PTSD, substance abuse, high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, suppressed immune functioning and increase abdominal fat.[i] To support officers, a comprehensive wellness program is needed to allow the science of stress and performance to influence department policy and intervention.

Starting in 2013, the San Antonio Police Department (SAPD) implemented such a program called Performance and Recovery Optimization (PRO) training. Developed in conjunction with the United States Air Force Security Forces and their Defender’s Edge[ii] program, PRO’s goal is to provide the individual first responder with the ability to manage physiological and psychological stress to enhance performance, improve health and advance well-being throughout his/her career life-cycle, including retirement.

PRO caters directly to civilian officers’ needs. The basics of the program are rooted in performance and sports psychology and utilize the most up-to-date scientific literature on stress and performance optimization. Skills associated with this training include: controlled breathing, muscle control, attention management, performance self-talk and developing a winning mindset.

Embedded in various ways throughout the SAPD, PRO is included in 8 hours of cadet training, 6 hours of in-service training and return-to-duty evaluations. Most importantly, SAPD has a PRO trained psychologist who works with instructors to reinforce the skills in driving, tactics and firearms training. In addition, SAPD is bridging the PRO skills to officers’ families; as spousal and family involvement is critical.

The implementation of PRO provides a holistic solution to enhance the performance and wellness of SAPD officers through prevention education. It addresses the fundamental causes of the health issues common in the law enforcement profession ranging from cardiovascular disease, acute stress disorder and PTSD to substance abuse, relationship issues and even suicide. PRO information is shared often with officers making it a part of SAPD culture to reach those less inclined to seek help and spark ongoing conversations between law enforcement officers. Many of the officers and cadets trained in PRO have asked for refresher courses and more time to learn and apply the wellness techniques.

Officer wellness is critical not only for law enforcement but for our community at large. Providing a comprehensive, preventative approach to wellness that utilizes research-based solutions will enhance individual performance and improve the health and well-being of officers.

For more information visit https://www.cna.org/news/events/keeping-police-officers-safe or contact Dr. Brandi Burque at brandipro2016@gmail.com.

 

[i] Bienenstock & Forsythe, 2016; Fink, 2016; Godbout, 2016; Murdock, LeRoy, Lacourt, Duke, Heinjen, & Fagundes, 2016

[ii] Wilson, 2011