Editors Note: Please join me in welcoming our newest contributor Sgt. Mark St. Hilaire as he leads us off for a Happy, Healthy and Safe New Year!
The New Year’s Resolution: What Is YOUR Action Plan for 2012?
As I reflect back on 2011, I am a little overwhelmed thinking about the things that occurred over the past year in my life. I have experienced many changes in my agency, new commitments within my family and my community service, illnesses and the deaths of loved ones and friends, some physical changes as I approach the golden anniversary of my birth and most of all, observing and reading about law enforcement officers who self-destruct in their careers through their unusual behavior and actions on and off the job. It has been an emotionally exhausting time and I am grateful for the many training opportunities, the maintenance of my fitness-eating plan and especially my peers who helped prepare me to meet these challenges.
As this New Year begins, many people participate in the ritual of a New Year’s Resolution. Many people accept the challenge and yes, many of our resolutions succumb to an early death. I stopped making resolutions on the annual basis because I felt discouraged when I could not keep my resolutions.
In the New Year of 1996, I had been a police officer about 10 years. I weighed about 350 lbs.; I had a distorted view of my career, working nights, an adult beverage problem. I had come to the point that I was so frustrated and I was miserable… I was sick and tired of being: SICK AND TIRED.
Some people and events helped me create small changes in my life that year. The changes began on New Year’s Day as a dare from my (former) wife and my buddy who is a cop in a neighboring agency about what I was eating. I was laughing at the changes they were making in their eating choices and as I called their bluff, I discovered that I desired these food choices too.
I met up with many people who taught me about good nutrition and the benefits of a low fat, whole grain Mediterranean style eating plan. I slowly returned to some exercising and reading up on wellness articles (before the internet) in magazines or books. In the beginning, the regiment was slow but I was committed and the little victories I achieved reinforced this commitment. By June 1997, I was weighing 200 lbs., wearing a size 36 waist (same size today) pant and my commitment to take better care of myself developed. I was committed to getting better not only physically but emotionally and spiritually.
The outlook of my career had its good times and bad times. I always felt out of sorts in my life while questioning myself and my career path. I had a small circle of friends who would listen to my frustrations but I had no understanding of the intense emotional (or lack of) feeling nor how to deal with these feelings in a healthy and productive way. I felt that this is how my life as a cop was going to be and it sucked.
In 2002, I observed a book review on a police website that changed my life. EMOTIONAL SURVIVAL FOR LAW ENFORCEMENT: A guide to officers and their families by Dr. Kevin Gilmartin Ph.D. An easy to read guide for law enforcement personnel and their families to understand the physiological effects of policing in ourselves, the emotional effects in our relationships and our perception of people, place and things as we progress in our law enforcement careers. Dr. Gilmartin describes the Hyper-vigilance roller coaster that we face daily at work and the effects it has on our relationships and our health. He encourages us to change from a victim based perception of this career and take control of our own individual lives. There are some things we can’t control on the job: new duty assignments, personnel changes, scheduling etc… but we can control things in our lives: taking care of ourselves, developing our relationships, hobbies etc… I have given copies of his book to many friends, co-workers, new recruits and retirees over the past 10 years. This book helped me develop a personal vision and an action plan for my life into today. It is not perfect and it changes but I am in a better place today. I have options today. I can make choices to improve my life and grow as an individual.
This improvement to my life became part of my Action Plan over the years. It has strengthened my resiliency to cope and bounce back from the changes I mentioned earlier over the past 12 months.
MAKE THIS COMMITMENT: What Is YOUR Action Plan Going To Be In 2012?
• Ask yourself: How do I feel? How is my fitness? When was my last medical check-up?
• You can develop your own exercise-activity plan: slow progress is a great way to return to fitness. Speak to your doctor before returning to an intense exercise program. Go for a walk, develop stretching techniques. Check out the www.fitresponder.com website for public safety fitness, wellness and injury prevention tips and videos.
• www.copsalive.com is another great website for nutrition, emotional, financial and wellness information focusing on law enforcement professionals.
• Order Dr. Gilmartin’s book on- line. Read it to understand the emotional and physiological toll of our law enforcement career. This book will help reset your priorities, develop and improve your relationships and schedule your life away from policing duties.
• Order Dr. George Thompson’s book on-line, Verbal Judo: The Gentle Art of Persuasion. A great book to help you improve your communication skills on and off the job.
• Make an appointment with your Employee Assistance Representative, Department Chaplain, Peer Counselor or a Mental Health Professional who has experience working with law enforcement personnel. Retired St. Paul, Minnesota Sgt. Dennis Conroy Ph.D. stated at a C.O.P.S.: Trauma in Law Enforcement conference last February in New Hampshire that law enforcement personnel are the toughest for professionals to work with. Dennis went on to remind us, “You’re not weak if you get professional help- you’re getting stronger!” Remember: Professional counseling is confidential and it’s your hour to discuss the issues and things affecting your emotional wellbeing.
• Training and self-improvement: Many agencies have been hit hard financially for training. Take advantage of the many police websites that offer on-line training, save up and attend great training on your own time and expense. Check in with your P.O.S.T. training in your area. Make a commitment to your professional growth and improvement.
• Check in with your family, friends and co-workers to see how they are doing? Be “Mindfully” present for your loved ones. Stay focused on them with minimal or no distractions while you actively listen to them during the conversation.
• Have a plan ready to reach out for help if you are caught in a sudden emotional tough place. Contact: Safe Call Now at 206-459-3020 or www.safecallnow.org which is a nationwide 24-7 hotline for public safety personnel and their families.
You have the opportunity to take control of your life every day in the New Year. Please remember that we can improve our lives daily while we have a choice to grow as individuals.
So, I’ll ask you again, what is YOUR action plan going to be in 2012?
Happy New Year!
Let’s take care of our own in 2012!
Many law enforcement officers know this is the time of year that many people that we serve are in emotional distress and are despondent.
This time of year also takes an emotional toll on members of our honorable profession. We are human beings who are put into some unthinkable situations performing a frustrating duty for a demanding public. The downside of our career brings out many emotional and mental health issues in our co-workers and peers. Law enforcement officers, dispatchers and support staff face similar personal issues and problems as the public we serve.
Family and relationship issues, marital discord or divorce, financial pressures, a recent loss of a loved one are some of issues we face on top of carrying out our policing duties. The down-side is that some of our brothers and sisters are suffering from depression, post- traumatic distress, addiction problems (alcohol, prescription drugs, food, gambling or compulsive spending etc…) We observe these weaknesses in our peers while they tend to isolate themselves and pass off to the world that everything is o.k. The reality is they are dying inside emotionally and many of these folks don’t know what to do. I can bet that you the reader have felt this pain first hand as I have. We are society’s problem solvers but sometimes our pride and fear of others’ opinions get the best of us.
I am writing about this because our profession suffers from co-workers and peers who may act out inappropriately in their behavior, they receive disciplinary action or they may lose their career. Some may hurt themselves or other people and some take their own lives. The statistics indicate that police officer suicides are 2-3 times more likely than those of officers who die in the line of duty here in the U.S every year.
I have two requests for you to commit to today and everyday
1. Please check in with our co-workers, peers and our families every day. If you observe something that is not right, REACH OUT and take the time to listen to them. Ask them if they have a desire to hurt themselves and just as important, offer to get them some help. Many EAP programs, Chaplains, C.I.S.M. teams, police peers are great referrals. Even if you have to take them to the hospital-Take the Action!
2. Remember this group: Safe Call Now, they operate a hotline for first responders.
Telephone (206) 459-3020
Safe Call Now is a confidential nationwide hotline that is available 24-7 developed and staffed by volunteer police officers and public safety professionals who will assist any local, state or federal public safety personnel anywhere in the U.S. They provide assistance and referrals for any public safety personnel and their families who are experiencing an emotional crisis or desire a need for someone to listen.
Safe Call Now will provide referral services for:
Addiction-Depression-Stress and P.T.S.D.-Finances-Mental Health-Relationship Issues
Grief and Loss-Other Issues Which May Frustrate You or Impact Your Personal or Professional Life
Safe Call Now was developed by Sean Riley, a police officer who battled addictions and came close to becoming another police suicide statistic. Sean worked collectively with a variety of unions, elected officials and public safety groups in the State of Washington. They passed legislation which maintains confidentiality for public safety professionals nationwide when they call Safe Call Now for help.
Safe Call Now is a registered 501©3 non-profit organization which began in April 2009. To date over 227 public safety professionals and 3700 families have been referred for service. Sean travels throughout the U.S. sharing his story and providing this service while establishing local contacts and referrals to assist others in need.
Please take a moment and check out their website: www.safecallnow.org
• Download and post this information in your station or union bulletin board
• Get your union on board to support this organization
• Tell your co-workers and peers about Safe Call Now
Police officers do not need to suffer in isolation and the call is confidential because it is protected by law. Safe Call Now is based in Seattle and takes calls nationwide as its resource network is nationwide.
I want to thank you for your noble service.
Please accept my warmest wishes to you and your family for a happy and safe holiday season.
Until next time, keep your eyes open, wear your vest, take care of yourself-your family- your co-workers and your community. Stay Safe!
Sergeant Mark St.Hilaire is a police officer in a Metro-west suburb of Boston, Massachusetts. He is a police peer volunteer with a regional C.I.S.M. team. He can be contacted by replying to this website or by confidential email by CLICKING HERE.
CopsAlive is written to prompt discussions within our profession about the issues of law enforcement career survival. We invite you to share your opinions in the Comment Box that is at the bottom of this article.
CopsAlive.com was founded to provide information and strategies to help police officers successfully survive their careers. We help law enforcement officers and their agencies prepare for the risks that threaten their existence.
We will help your agency create the kind of place that supports and protects officers so that they can do their jobs better, safer, longer and survive to tell their grand kids all about it.
We do this by Helping Law Enforcement professionals plan for happy, healthy and successful lives on the job and beyond. We think the best strategy is for each officer to create a tactical plan for their own life and career. We call this Tactical Wellness planning.
The Law Enforcement Survival Institute (LESI) works with individuals and organizations to help them create and sustain success in their lives and careers as law enforcement professionals. It is the primary goal of The Law Enforcement Survival Institute to become the preeminent source for training, resources and information about how to create and sustain a happy, healthy and successful life and career while providing superior law enforcement service to your community.
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I’m John Marx, Founder of The Law Enforcement Survival Institute and the Editor of CopsAlive.com. Connect with me on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.