The High Cost of Unwellness in Policing

Police officer unwellness is a crisis that needs immediate action.

Unwellness in policing is more widespread than we imagine and it is costing our communities more that just dollars and cents.

First, let’s talk about what unwellness in law-enforcement might look like:

In my Armor Your Self book, I defined comprehensive wellness within the domains of physical fitness, mental fitness, emotional fitness and spiritual fitness and gave over 180 tips, tactics and techniques to strengthen and condition resilience in those areas.

So, when we examine unwellness within those domains, it could look like: obesity, exhaustion, fatigue in the physical domain. The mental or cognitive domain could see brain fog, poor decision-making and poor communication skills as signs of unwellness… Anger issues, depression, burnout could show unwellness in the emotional demand and corruption, dishonesty or loss of integrity might reflect unwellness in the spiritual domain. Any number of minor, or major, health effects that could cause a reduction in performance, professionalism, courtesy or general operational effectiveness could be impacted by any or all of these areas of police officer unwellness.

My Premise:
Policing is a people business – it’s about people protecting and serving other people.
We can police without all of our cool toys but we can’t police without our human resources.

If we don’t take care of our people they won’t be able to take care of THE PEOPLE!

I believe that almost every problem we are facing in our profession, including:
High turnover,
Citizen complaints,
Excessive use of force,
On-the-job accidents,
Employee burnout,
Employee suicides,
Toxic organizational cultures,
and Toxic leadership,
have roots leading directly back to the wellness and well-being of our employees!

I have found that many agencies are also only dabbling in wellness to try to address some of these much bigger problems.

With that in mind let’s examine some of, what I think, are the high costs of unwellness in law enforcement.

Here are a couple of examples for you to consider:

If unwellness contributes to poor judgements and erroneous decisions then how does it affect employee auto accidents?
What did your agency spend on auto accident repairs last year?

If unwellness contributes to poor morale and high employee turnover then how does it affect your expenditures for recruiting, hiring and training?
What did your agency spend on recruiting, hiring and new hire training last year?

If we also consider how employee frustration, anxiety, depression and general unwellness can impact their judgement and decision making, how might those issues be driving payments made by your organization to settle claims of improper actions?
What did your agency pay out in liability claim settlements last year?

If unwellness contributes to physical, mental, emotional and spiritual decline then how does it affect the really serious challenges facing your employees?
What are the costs of low morale, a citizen complaint, a line-of-duty death or even an employee suicide?

I’m writing here about direct, out of your budget, financial costs without even addressing the other hidden costs of emotional distress, trauma and grief.

How much of this money, time and energy could be saved and reinvested into your wellness initiatives?

Not all employees are unwell, not all employees have serious levels of unwellness and not all accidents, injuries or deaths can be contributed to unwellness, but how many of them can be? I suspect that that number is fairly high and wonder if they could have been prevented or minimized by better wellness practices, and a wellness oriented culture, within the organization?

One of the biggest issues we face is a lack of proactivity and a true prevention mindset in policing. When challenges are so large and daunting, like the ones we are discussing here, we in law enforcement enter a state of denial and say that there is “nothing we can do”, “these issues are covered in our risk management plan”, or that this is “just the cost of doing business”.


This state of inertia is not helpful when it comes to very preventable issues of employee performance and wellness. The problem is that many agencies have not taken a comprehensive and strategic approach to supporting their employee’s wellness issues by building strategic wellness systems. They just hold another training program.

Is Your Wellness Program a Hodgepodge of Pieces That DON’T Fit Together?

Do you have a strategic wellness plan or just a bunch of programs and activities with no clear mission or effectiveness metrics?

Imagine an average employee who, over time, has experienced excessive negative stress and secondary trauma. Without the proper support they could suffer many of the issues mentioned above but with the proper care from your agency’s support systems like psych services, peer support, chaplaincy and proper mentoring, as well and encouragement from wellness focused leadership and a supportive wellness and team-oriented organizational culture they might thrive. You could even involve family members in a wellness oriented family support system. Family members are truly our first line of defense when it comes to spotting unwellness!

An effective wellness system is not a collection of activities, but rather a robust, comprehensive initiative with a strategic purposes, what I call a system of systems.

There are no quick fixes. We need to build better people from the ground up, we need to build better agencies from the ground up. Training is not the only answer. Frequently training is used as a substitute for actual organizational improvement.

My idea of an effective wellness system is a comprehensive, integrated mechanism to bolster and sustain the health, wellness, well-being and resilience of people by focusing on five critical core organizational priorities: Purpose, Resilience, Support Systems, Leadership and Organizational Culture.

Wellness is not a program, it should be a system! Or, more aptly a system of systems.

Wellness systems should be strategic, comprehensive, specific, and measurable.

In my book Armor Your Self: How to Survive a Career in Law Enforcement I described this as a System of Systems made up of layers beginning with enhancing agency support systems, then orienting our leadership practices and organizational culture toward wellness and then building individual resilience.

What results do you expect from your police officer wellness program?

What metrics are you using to measure the effectiveness of your law enforcement wellness initiatives?

Have you considered some of the possible cost savings you could reap by reducing police unwellness?

I encourage you to start a discussion within your agency about the topics of comprehensive wellness and unwellness.

Use the link below to download our “Costs of Policing Unwellness Discussion Worksheet” to talk about this with your staff, team or throughout your organization.

I welcome your thoughts on these issues, which you can share by either contacting me directly, or by entering your comments in the comments box below.

If you agree with these concepts but don’t know where to begin or are overwhelmed by the task, let me know and I will help you build a leadership team, and process, to build all that your agency needs one step at a time.

I aspire to build a concept of Wellness Focused Policing as a people focused policing strategy to promote wellness within law-enforcement first, and then to spread that sense of care, and focus on well-being, outwardly to the people served by the police. I call this Wellness Driven Community Policing.

Free Police Wellness Snapshot Survey:
We have a free online wellness systems survey to take a quick “snapshot” of your agency to identify areas where improvements need to be made. Use this simple survey to see where your agency is doing well in caring for people and where you may need to put in a little extra work. It only takes a moment to answer the 10 simple questions and then you will immediately receive your diagnostic snapshot survey report by email.
CLICK HERE to visit our Police Wellness site to take the survey.

The Law Enforcement Survival Institute (LESI) is an assessment, consulting and training organization that is available to help you in many ways. We work with law-enforcement professionals and other first responders and their organizations who want to be at their best. Our focus is wellness and resilience. We have a variety of products and services, including self-paced Do-It-Yourself materials that can help agencies of any size and any budget. Visit to learn more about our training, consulting and DIY products.

CLICK HERE to download the Costs of Policing Unwellness Discussion Worksheet

REMEMBER: Police Wellness should be a SYSTEM, not a program!

At LESI we believe that an effective police wellness system should be strategic, comprehensive, specific, measurable and sustainable. The LESI faculty is always available to help you build the wellness system your agency needs whether that includes building individual resilience for your people; assessing and enhancing agency support systems; developing a positive wellness culture; promoting wellness leadership practices; or all of the above, we’re available to help you so please reach out by clicking here to email or by giving us a call.

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CopsAlive is written to prompt discussions within our profession about the issues of law enforcement career survival, health and wellness. We invite you to share your opinions, ask questions and suggest topics for us in the Comment Box that is at the bottom of this article.

At The Law Enforcement Survival Institute (LESI) we train law enforcement officers to cope with stress and manage all the toxic effects and hidden dangers of a career in law enforcement.

Our “Armor Your Self™: How to Survive a Career in Law Enforcement” is a resilience building textbook, a do-it-yourself curriculum and a training program that can be presented live, on-site, virtually or through pre-recorded learning modules. These programs help police officers and other law enforcement professionals armor themselves physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually to build Tactical Resilience™ and survive their careers in police work. To learn more CLICK HERE. To learn about and buy the book CLICK HERE.

Our “Wellness Focused Policing Initiative” is a people focused policing strategy to promote wellness within law-enforcement first, and then to spread that sense of care, and focus on well-being, outwardly to the people served by the police. This is not a quick fix, “flavor of the month” or a band-aid solution but rather a long-term commitment to developing the comprehensive health and well-being of both law enforcement professionals AND the people they serve. To learn more CLICK HERE. To take our quick and free online survey to see where you stand now CLICK HERE.

The Tactical Resilience™ and Ethical Policing Project (TREPP) is our international initiative to promote the health and resiliency of law enforcement professionals by conditioning our people physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, as well as paying attention to strengthening their mindset, level of personal mastery, depth of their social support system sand their financial fitness. It also provides a set of tools and techniques that, replenish their spiritual health and, restores their inner peace and clarity.  TREPP is expandable to meet the needs of your community and your budget and can use training, assessments and consulting to assist you where you need it. We build human resilience, create processes to enhance agency support systems, promote a culture of wellness, and most importantly initiate community lead projects thru our Law enforcement officers as Community Action Leaders (LoCAL) initiative.
CLICK HERE to download our InfoSheet on TREPP.

The concept of “True Blue Valor™” is where one law enforcement officer has to muster the courage to confront a peer who is slipping both professionally and personally and endangering themselves, their peers and the public. It takes a system of organizational support and professional leadership to support and foster the concept of courage and intervention. We will train your trainers to deliver this program to your agency.
To learn more CLICK HERE

Our “Armor Your Agency™: How to Create a Healthy and Supportive Law Enforcement Agency” Program includes critical strategies that you will need to build a system of support and encouragement for a healthy and productive agency. To learn more CLICK HERE

CLICK HERE to read more about The Law Enforcement Survival Institute.

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I’m John Marx, Founder of The Law Enforcement Survival Institute and the Editor of Connect with me on Facebook, LinkedIn Twitter. and Instagram. was founded to provide information and strategies to help police officers successfully survive their careers and improve their heathy, wellness and effectiveness. We help law enforcement officers and their agencies prepare for the risks that threaten their existence. Thank you for reading!

About Editor

John Marx was a Police Officer for twenty-three years and served as a Hostage Negotiator for nineteen of those years. He worked as a patrol officer, media liaison officer, crime prevention officer and burglary detective. Also during his career he served as administrator of his city's Community Oriented Governance initiative through the police department's Community Policing project. Today John combines his skills to consult with businesses about improving both their security and their customer service programs. John retired from law enforcement in 2002. When one of his friends, also a former police officer, committed suicide at age 38, John was devastated and began researching the problems that stress creates for police officers. He decided he needed to do something to help change those problems and he wanted to give something back to the profession that gave him so much. He started a project that has evolved into Put simply, the mission of CopsAlive is to save the lives of those who save lives! gathers information, strategies and tools to help law enforcement professionals plan for happy, healthy and successful careers, relationships and lives.
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