The Benefits of Employee Assistance Programs in the Police Organization

Introduction

Police officers very significant when it comes to protecting the safety of society, especially civilians, locally and internationally.  They serve as the first responders in every “national network of emergency”; thus, it is just fitting that there be respect with their actions and endeavors, and sensitivity with their struggles in order to help them fulfill their responsibility more effectually (Gorski, 2002).  Everyday, police officers are confronted with extremely dangerous situations that could result to grave traumatic stress or, worse, their very death.

Stress is common in all types of occupations, its degree though, varies from one occupation to the other.  Surprisingly, other occupations such as business and medical services are more stressful compared to policing; however, job stress in policing is different in nature when compared to the stress experienced by other occupations (O’Connor, 2006).

Police stress is different from other job stress due to “burst stress” or stress where there is an absence of a steady stressor. Since police officers quickly shift from a calm state up to a condition of intense activity.  Many scholars regard police stress as something special; others claim that it is not due to the dangerous nature of the job or insecurity and any case dissatisfaction. One of them is W. Clinton Terry (1985), a scholar who gave the term “police stress syndrome”. On the other hand, there are those who claim that police stress is due to a combination of the safe and unsafe factors of policing, which they refer to as “police paradox” (O’Connor, 2006).  Another difference is that good stress in police stress is equal to bad stress.  Police officers who are performing outstandingly, most of the time, feel as if they do not deserve all the rewards that they acquire – high salary, promotion, etc. – hence, they resolve to do things that negatively affect them (O’Connor, 2006).

The signs are delayed and are always mistaken as just Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and burnout.  For the time being, they might still appear normal and well; they perform their duties still in a very outstanding manner; however, unknown to other people, these police officers are starting to isolate themselves from their own self, values and emotions (Gorski, 2002).  The process of self-destruction is slow but dangerous.  It is not only the police officers who suffer but also their relationships with people – their marriage fails and their connection with their friends and other family members deteriorate.

Reaction from stress varies from one person to the other depending on their personality, education, experiences in general, years being in the service, coping strategies, weight of the stressful events they encounter and the organization they belong to itself (O’Connor, 2006).  The three most popular reactions from stress are suicide, alcoholism and infidelity.

O’Connor cited an author named Violanti (1996) who stated that police officers kill themselves six times greater than the general population and eight times greater than those who die from criminal encounters.  Through psychological autopsies, police suicides are due to mental disorder, depression, alcohol and drugs.  Also, most of them commit suicide due to the traumas they acquire in line of their profession (Gorski, 2002).  Their everyday experiences while on duty could get difficult for them to cope up with.  If every aspect of their emotions is no longer tolerable, even simple matters or occurrences are already enough to push them to their limit, and if this is already the case, police officers will finally decide to commit suicide.

The abovementioned case could not only occur to on-duty police officers but also to the retired ones.  Commonly, it is at this point where all the confined traumatic stress hoarded from the time they are still active in their profession became more insufferable (Gorski, 2002).  Most of the retired police officers choose to totally live in isolation, thus, suicide is accessible by these retired police officers.  Every death of a certain police officer should be given recognition as a reward for their sacrifices in order to fulfill their duty; however, since most suicides are done by those isolated retired police officers, giving them recognition is no longer possible.

Others resolve their problems through alcoholism; however, most alcoholic police officers are the older ones and can be from any gender and ethnicity.  Alcoholism in police organizations are defined as those who are drinking while they are on duty.  According to various studies, alcoholism in policing ranges from 25% to 67%.  Nowadays, recent studies are also studying the “cop ulcer” rate, fitness, dietary habits and drug use/abuse (O’Connor, 2006).

As mentioned earlier, isolation results to failed marriages since the communication and the connection between the police officer and his or her spouse deteriorates.  However, according to some studies, infidelity is also a cause why police divorce has a ratio of 1:10 succeed (O’Connor, 2006).  It was said that policing is very open to temptations and opportunities, but recent studies claim that the reason behind rampant police divorce is the shift work.

Police stress varies depending on their rank, gender and ethnicity (O’Connor, 2006).  Those who are working in the middle management accumulate stress from their superiors that do not provide support and subordinates who do not give respect.  On the other hand, Field Training Officers (FTOs) feels stressed by playing two roles for the continuous flow of recruits, the roles are as a trainer and as a role model.  On the other hand, detectives get stressed from doing their job on their own, from working in irregular hours, from being frustrated of how the criminal justice works and from the pressure of solving the cases they handle as quickly as possible.

Female police officers, aside from dealing with the stress that is experienced by male police officers, also need to deal with sexual harassment, public stereotypes and the special task of gaining acceptance from male police officers. Lastly, police officers from minorities get stressed due to racial discrimination.  Moreover, most of the time, female and minority officers are assigned to due specific jobs that only they can perform due to their gender and ethnicity (O’Connor, 2006).  With this kind of stress that police officers experience, it will be very important for police departments to accentuate Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) in order to prevent the regrettable fate of police officers.

EAPs in Focus

In the “Zero Tolerance for Violence” of Boston City, Massachusetts (2000), EAP accepts calls regarding threats and acts of violence that occur in the workplace and keep them confidential.  The victims then are given emotional support and are referred to services which provide counseling.  They give them a hand in formulating their safety plan to protect them from any acts of violence in the workplace and the EAP also helps in guiding departmental heads and personnel in keeping the confidentiality of all information.

Generally, EAPs are designed to offer “professional and confidential” assistance to employees who are having problems that affect their performance in their jobs.  It helps the employees find the best way on how they should deal with their problems.  O’Connor (2006) stated that EAPs is a type help which aims to ease the level of stress of the workers in order to avoid critical and complicated mental disorder.

In addition, it used to be known as Occupational Alcoholism Programs (OAPs) and were designed to point out employee problems at a very early point in time since it centers on problem assessment.  Moreover, it also concentrates on giving counsel even for just a short while, recommendation to expert treatments, follow-up services, educating the employees and training the management  (Gund & Elliot, 1995).

Problem assessment is done with the cooperation of the employee, when the nature of the problem is finally assessed, the EAP would evaluate each possible solution to find the most effective one.  Some of the problems that EAPs help the employees with are marital dysfunction, financial and legal crisis, drug addiction, job stress, traumatic events, and nonspecific mental health problems.  Hodson and Fallon (1989) pointed out that the very objective of EAPs in the realm of policing is to rebuild police officers back to their best condition to be efficient members of the community once again.

EAPs are already being applied ever since the 1950s and have come a long way since.  EAPs in the 1950s involved traditional programs which require putting the concerned employees on desk jobs and ignoring their situation.  Then came the EAP Officers of the 1960s who granted sick leaves of employees who requested for them without any further inquiries. They would also refer them to counselors and mental health agencies outside their organization (O’Connor, 2006).

In 1970s, there was already what they called In-House Stress Units who would try to arrive at some kind of an intercession with the employee regarding their problem.  They would also attempt to hold stress seminars within the department or bring in outside councilors after a particular major incident.  Ministry programs were put up on 1980s; in this program, employees are referred to a victim survivor group which provides church-sponsored retreats and group-based programs (O’Connor, 2006).

Lastly, in the 1990s, Critical Incident Stress Debriefing (CISD) was established; a debriefing team would always respond after a critical incident.  A critical incident is defined as incidents where the victim is known by the responder, this involves “line-of-duty deaths, suicide, death of a child, unsuccessful rescue attempts and mass causality incidents” (O’Connor, 2006).

Establishment of EAPs was required by the 1970 Public Law 91-616 or what is commonly known as “Hughes Bill” after Senator Harold Hughes of Iowa (Gund & Elliot, 1995).  The public law obliged federal agencies to put up programs regarding alcoholism for the sake of the federal employees.  This was followed other public laws and issuance from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) ordered federal agencies to offer range of human resource services to federal employees which would grow increasingly from time to time.  Most federal agencies gave the complete EAP services through the “broad brush” approach, but whatever was their approach in developing EAPs, they always made sure that they will sustain the workplace’s safety and the productivity of the employees along with guaranteeing their personal well-being (Gund & Elliot, 1995).

As for the case of law enforcement organizations, the materialization of EAPs helped the expansion of the involvement of mental health professionals and the improvement of their services.  Prior the progress EAPs, law enforcement organizations have been making use of mental health professionals who are helping the organization in gauging the potential risks of profiling criminal behavior from the past to the future and providing aid in a middle of hostage barricade situations, they also help officers to handling occupational stress and life-threatening incidents, lastly, they facilitate psychological screenings for new recruits and monitoring officers if they have acquired psychological based disabilities (Gund & Elliot, 1995).

However, not all law enforcement organizations adopted EAPs in the same manner; their approaches varied and totally differed from another.  There were some organizations that separate the responsibilities while there are those who tried to mix EAPs with the current psychological services which led to conflicting roles (Gund & Elliot, 1995).  As a result, most law enforcement organizations separated EAPs from other services through a set of policies.

EAP services were offered though three different programs, namely, (1) internal programs, (2) external contracted services and (3) combined services (Gund & Elliot, 1995).  With the internal program model, EAPs are operated by full-time agency employees who offer the traditional services of EAPs.  On the other hand, the external contracted model runs EAPs through the “outside providers” who carry clinical services.  However, this second program is being managed from inside headed by a certain agency program manager.  Lastly, through the combined services model, the program is executed inside the organization by using an outside contractor.

According to Gund and Elliot (1995), the third model is the most cost effective and efficient program in the realm of federal law enforcement organizations for it is capable of providing a full range of EAPs.  Nonetheless, the external model is capable of accumulating more self-referrals and is efficient in handling family members, while the internal model is more competent in receiving higher supervisory referrals and is effective in dealing with chemically dependent employees who are referred to by their supervisors.

Each police organization offer different EAPs just as other occupations do not offer the same kind of EAPs as the police organization.  To get a glimpse of the EAPs provided by police organizations, this paper will describe the EAPs of the Beaverton Police Department, Oregon, USA.

Beaverton Police Department (1999) offers psychological assistance to employees at the city expense.  Employees who needed this assistance could be referred to by the supervisor or the administrator through the Chief of Police or by himself or herself through the Chief of Police or the Department of the Human Resources.  However, an employee is directed straight to psychological assistance if he or she was directly involved in a shootout or an accident which resulted to death or a grave injury.

Mental health service is also being provided, Beaverton Police Department (1999) even encourages their employees to utilize the said service especially those who recognize a presence of possible mental health problems which may result to a serious case.  Another assistance provided by the Beaverton Police Department is the traumatic incident assistance which is meant for employees who were involved or affected by serious incidents.  In this assistance, the administration would provide counseling services, legal representation, etc. as long as the city authorizes it.  Also included in the traumatic incident assistance is the administrative leave without loss of pay and benefits.

Beaverton Police Department’s (1999) EAPs also provide professional supports.  Those who suffered from a traumatic incident will be provided with short and long term mental health support.  Also, it also offers legal counsel at the expense of the city to employees when a claim is made against him or her as long as the act being complained is not done due to negligence or other reasons in the same line.

Aside from professional support, the EAPs also provide spiritual support.  In line with an involvement in a traumatic incident, the EAPs will provide the services of a police chaplain in order to give the employee and his or her family a spiritual consultation to prepare them from the possible moral and ethical effects of the incident.

There is also the designation of support resources; the employee’s supervisor and the investigator who facilitates the investigation of the traumatic incident along the Chief of Police will make sure that the employee is being provided with the psychological assistance.  The Chief of Police will even assign some employees of the department to make sure that the personal needs of the involved employee are also provided.

It also offer grievance procedures, the issues covered of this procedure are          organizational policy, nature of service delivery, corruption, safety, harassment, dishonesty, ethics, work agreement violations and bargaining agreements (Beaverton Police Department, 1999).  Lastly, the EAPs also offers legal advice to employees connected to a present ongoing criminal investigation and to employees who are involved with other offenses which are traffic violations, city code violations, and traffic crimes.

EAPs could provide a number of benefits, by just looking over the Beaverton Police Department, their employees are being provided with numerous free services – psychological assistance, mental health services and traumatic incident assistance, professional and spiritual support, additional support resources, grievance procedures, and legal advice.  The employees are encouraged to fully and properly utilize the mentioned services in order to achieved positive emotional health and efficient flow in the workplace.

Furthermore, aside from the free services provided by the organization, EAPs also have other benefits.  Generally, according to Bayer (2004), EAPs provides four key benefits and they are: (1) support for the employer, (2) support for the employee, (3) preventive care, and (4) emergency consultation.

EAP gives employers a helping hand in handling a convoluted employee setup.  It helps the employer avoid impulsive actions like putting an outstanding employee under a disciplinary action just because his or her performance slipped without thinking of helping him or her to get back on track.  The employer should give the employee a hand in solving his or her personal problems that are hindering him or her perform properly (Bayer, 2004).  Thus, EAPs assist the employer when it comes to helping the employee by formulating an effective plan which both of the employer and the employee would agree on.  It will save the employer from losing an exceptional employee and rescue the employee personal problems, and even leading him or her back to right track where he or she would be able to sustain his or her productivity (Bayer, 2004).

The program also helps the employees in determining their existent problem on why they are getting stressed, distressed and depressed and on why they are resolving to alcohol and drugs.  Through the EAP, the particular employee would be referred to a confidential expert who will make use of the “assessment and triage” model; the expert would help him or her figure out what is really the problem and provide him or her some good advice in order to solve the problem at hand (Bayer, 2004).

Aside from consultations and counseling, EAPs also offers access to few educations and on-site training where one can learn about how to identify depression, stress, personal problems and substance abuse problems (Bayer, 2004).  It also provides information on how to solve the enumerated problems.

Lastly, EAPs can provide crisis counseling if necessary, like during an emergency like robbery or a serious physical accident (Bayer, 2004).  Occurrences like those that were mentioned could affect not only the very person involve but also the employer’s entire staff.  Thus, to lessen the chances of growing distress and impairment, EAP could provide a therapist who could go to the workplace and give stress debriefing.

However, more importantly to an organization – mostly, business organizations, EAP could help in saving money (Bayer, 2004).  This is possible because EAP could help an organization in lessening health insurance costs, company downtime, loss of productivity, and moral problems.

When it comes to police organizations, EAPs are capable in serving as preventive and intervention mechanism by assisting an alcoholic and troubled employee; it could also develop an instrument or train personnel in order to determine those employees who are having problems (Besner, 1985).  This could be done by going through data such as absenteeism, work performance, appearance, tardiness and number of complaints.

Also, EAP can provide assistance to employees who got involved with critical incidents by giving counseling sessions to help the employee’s emotional well being.  Counselors from EAP could execute stress management programs to avoid the rising cases of stress-related health problems and suicide which is common among the police officers (Besner, 1985).  They could also make the employees see that the organization that they are working with values them and is doing their best to provide them with their needs.  By doing this, the counselors would be able to help the employee to build up his or her confidence and morale as well as the organization’s (Besner, 1985).

They could also held training forums regarding work and non-work related issues.  A program which centers on the spouses is possible to be developing in order to tackle family-related issues that could possibly affect the employee’s life at home.  Lastly, EAPs advocates for mental health since it encourages employees to seek help as early as possible in order to lessen the time consumed between the surfacing of the problem and its treatment (Besner, 1985).  Like in business organizations, it could also help the police organization to reduce the cost and improve productivity and as well as the community’s safety.

Conclusion

Though EAPs are no longer new when it comes to taking care of employees, the psychological services being provided to police organizations are still in its young stage (Gund & Elliot, 1995).  EAPs are capable of providing positive effects for the employees; however, it is not easy to execute it in the police organizations.  This is due to the environment of police organizations which is in a “quasi-military fashion” and is regarded as a close society.  Police officers also doubt the confidentiality of the information and they also believe that looking for a help due to a problem is considered as week.

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