Baltimore City Police Department | Poster for wellness
Baltimore City (MD) Police Department
The Baltimore City Police Department’s (BPD) Officer Wellness program was created in 2018, following the suicides of three officers, an identified problem with officers abusing alcohol and as the police force waded through a series of allegations of misconduct.
The Department created the Office of Officer Safety and Wellness (OOSW), which offers a series of initiatives designed to assist those officers who are experiencing problems with alcohol and to enhance the mental health support to all its employees, particularly those who have experienced a critical incident. The Director, Mr. Vernon Herron, is a former Maryland State Trooper, who experienced his own issues following a shooting and found it difficult to find confidential and effective counseling.
The BPD is the 16th largest police agency in the U. S. and polices one of the most violent cities in the country. The OOSW, has had a year of data gathering and has improved its program offerings from 2018. Apart from proactively getting officers into alcohol counseling, through the Office of Early Intervention, the OOSW also created a Response Team of professionals to go directly to critical incident scenes to offer immediate support to officers who were involved, or witnessed a critical incident, such as a shooting, a gruesome scene, or cases where children are involved. In 2019 the OOSW saw officers return to duty from critical incidents at a rate 56% higher than the previous year.
By contracting with the Baltimore Health Services (BHS), officers and their family members can receive Employee Assistance (EAP) and counseling via a 24-hour hot line. The personal referrals and use of the service has increased dramatically, as “pop-up” health fairs at the police districts and facilities introduced the resources (Yoga, Peer Support, EAP, nutrition, financial counseling) to officers and civilian employees and allowed the OOSW to make connections by putting a face to the people providing the services. The OOSW, reports that 94% of the referrals are self-referrals and the use of its EAP and Peer Support services is now over “twice the national average.”
The OOSW has also enlisted the assistance of a Therapy Dog named “Penny”, who goes out to critical incidents, visits police stations and is available to comfort those may be stressed out. The OOSW, has also hired nutritionists and created marketing materials using their own personnel in posters, to encourage officers to eat right and to take care of their mental health.
The department also partnered with “Under Armor”, a company headquartered in Baltimore, to assist officers in maintaining a healthy lifestyle and fitness regimen to help overweight officers loose and to help keep officers in good condition. A news report from a local station titled “The Weight of the Badge”, as well as CNN reported on the success of the OOSW, and several officers have offered public testimonials as to the program’s effectiveness and how it helped them through their difficulty.