July 14, 2020


Key Takeaways

-- 2020 has been an extremely stressful time for law enforcement employees and their families. For months, officers have been worried about catching the coronavirus and spreading it to their loved ones. Then, demonstrations about police use of force, and in many cases, looting and vandalism, placed new strains on officers.  And the economic security of police agencies is in doubt because of the national recession of 2020 and calls to “defund the police.”  This combination of stressors has made officer wellness initiatives more important than ever.

-- Officer wellness outreach should be conducted through multiple channels. Employee assistance programs, peer support officers, chaplains, and department leaders should all communicate with officers and other employees about wellness resources.

-- Chaplains can be particularly helpful when they meet officers where they work, such as the front lines of demonstrations. These informal interactions can lead to more formal and lasting relationships later.   

-- Everyone can benefit from “self-care” principles.  During times of high stress, it is especially important for all police employees to exercise, pay attention to their diet, use good sleep practices, check their alcohol consumption, etc.


Evesham, NJ Police Chief Chris Chew:

Officer Wellness Requires Many Different Approaches to Reach Everyone

At the onset of COVID-19, I scheduled a Zoom meeting with all department members and with our police psychologist to discuss the stress surrounding the pandemic.  It was almost a 2-hour meeting with information for the officers, their spouses, and other family members.  We also scheduled our mandatory annual one-on-one meetings with our police psychologist during the COVID-19/civil unrest period.  All were conducted virtually and were very successful.

I hosted four department-wide meetings via Zoom to bring everyone together as an agency, two during the initial wave of COVID-19 and two during the civil unrest.  And I hosted individual Zoom meetings with civilian employees, because they were furloughed and stressed.

I met with union leaders at the onset of the pandemic and stressed that we’re all in this together. We seamlessly handled schedule changes, personal protective equipment, and adjusted policies and procedures that needed flexibility.

We hosted a Zoom meeting with our chaplains and discussed our internal stressors.  They then reached out on their own to our police officers. There was an excellent response to that approach, both internally and within the community. The chaplains were also by my side during our briefings on scheduled protests and remained with our staff during the events.  They provide excellent internal support for our staff and also provide a connection to the community.

We hosted Zoom meetings with our Business Association members, who immediately provided care packages for our staff and were vocal supporters on social media and during protests.

We partnered with local supermarkets to host law enforcement-only times for officers to shop with their families. That was a big hit, particularly in the beginning of the pandemic.

Our wellness committee members conducted numerous informal referrals to our police psychologist for free EAP visits.  These are confidential, so I only know that it was being used, not who is using it.

I paid close attention to our “high-risk” officers who have needed assistance in the past.  Our wellness committee members have developed close relationships within the agency and were able to assist without any formal action from administration.

We worked very closely with two officers who were deployed in the military to develop plans to reintegrate them when they return.

Our wellness committee created bulletins on:

  • Stress reduction techniques
  • Healthy eating habits
  • Physical fitness exercises that can be done at home or outdoors
  • Financial tips for police families that include someone who lost a job, including assistance with unemployment benefits
  • Testing for COVID-19 and information about protecting yourself from the virus.

(Note: Click here and here to view examples of the Evesham Police Department’s wellness bulletins.)

At the end of the day, communication and presence are making the biggest difference.  I have needed to be very visible, understanding, empathetic, confident, and flexible with schedules, policies, and procedures. And our wellness committee has provided desperately needed informal support during this time.


San Diego Chief David Nisleit:

We Have an Active Chaplains Program That Has Proved Essential

With all of the stressors in the policing profession right now, our decision to have our chaplains on the line with personnel during recent demonstrations has probably had the greatest positive impact on our officers’ wellness. 

We heard that demonstrators might try to damage our headquarters, so we staffed quite a few people on the line there. It was also a central meeting location for our teams before they went to other parts of the city. Having our chaplains on the line there made them accessible and enabled informal conversations. That led to more formal meetings that gave our officers the opportunity to talk through issues, which is key for destressing during these challenging times.

Our officers’ main concern over the past few months was, of course, COVID-19 and potentially infecting themselves or their loved ones. Our chaplains and wellness unit personnel were visible and available to officers and family members who wanted to discuss concerns and work through their various situations.

After the George Floyd incident, family members’ focus shifted to “I don’t feel good about you being in this profession” concerns. It was especially hard on black officers, some of whom were targeted by protestors with rude insults. Our chaplains and wellness unit members reached out to our black police officers’ association to offer support, counsel, and a safe place to express themselves.

The presence of chaplains on scene during this period of heightened emotion has been incredibly important for officers. Officers know they have unwavering support from the chaplains, and that the chaplains’ services extend to officers’ family members. The interactions on the line have been unplanned and informal, but the chaplains follow up to meet one-on-one, in small groups, or for weekly coffee. They tailor their services to the needs of officers and their loved ones.


Buffalo, NY Deputy Commissioner Joe Gramaglia:

Self-Care Is Also Important – Sleep, Exercise, Diet, Limiting Alcohol, Etc.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, our department has been sending messages through our Employee Assistance Program coordinator and peer support officers to remind personnel that resources are available to address their physical and mental wellness concerns. 

It’s important for officers to recognize when they don't feel quite right and understand why that might be.  Due to the recent protest activity, we increased our outreach and encouraged officers who have worked the front lines to focus on their well-being. The Buffalo Police Department has a dedicated all-volunteer peer support team that is attending briefings at each of the five patrol districts and the traffic division at the request of our peer support officers. During these briefings, members of that 10-person team present on the core tenets of wellness that are often ignored during stressful times but are necessary to functioning well, such as sleeping properly, exercising, curbing alcohol intake, and eating well.  They also remind officers how to reach the peer support team. 

The briefings are designed to be much more personal than an email. Our goal is two-fold:  (1) support officers by encouraging them to utilize the EAP and peer support resources available to them, and (2) emphasize the need for self-care (diet, sleep, exercise) to stay both physically and mentally well.  This not only benefits the officers, but also their loved ones and the community members with whom they interact.


The PERF Critical Issues Report is part of the Critical Issues in Policing project, supported by the Motorola Solutions Foundation.


PERF also is grateful to the Howard G. Buffett Foundation for supporting this work.

Police Executive Research Forum
1120 Connecticut Avenue NW, Suite 930
Washington, DC 20036
(202) 466-7820