Norfolk Police Department
Award Year: 2021
Safety Category: Officer Wellness
Additional Award Year: N/A
The Norfolk Police Department (NPD) is the primary law enforcement agency for the City of Norfolk, Virginia. The City of Norfolk is approximately 96 square miles with a population of 242,234. The City of Norfolk hosts one of the largest military installations in the United States and two major interstate systems. The Norfolk Police Department has 879 authorized full-time positions. Of that number, 776 are sworn law enforcement positions and 102 are civilian support staff. The department is headed by Chief of Police, Larry D. Boone and is divided into three bureaus which are identified as Investigative Service, Administrative Services and Field Operations. The mission of the Norfolk Police Department is to provide protection and police services responsive to the needs of the people of Norfolk by providing a safe environment for communities, businesses, and visitors to the City of Norfolk.
The Norfolk Police Department actively supports employees obtaining mental health and wellness assistance that is responsive and unique to law enforcement needs. This agency has made significant strides in the last few years and continues to improve its support network and wellness resources.
It is the policy of the Norfolk Police Department to maintain a Critical Incident and Stress Management Program and Peer Support Unit (CISM-PSU). The program consists of specially trained peers, chaplains, and mental health providers all designed to give Norfolk Police Department members the opportunity to receive emotional and tangible peer support through times of professional and personal crises while also anticipating and addressing potential difficulties. The CISM-PSU augments the City of Norfolk’s existing Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and does not replace psychological treatment.
In 2015, a Critical Incident Stress Management -Peer Support Unit was developed and implemented following the tragic death of Norfolk Police Officer Brian Jones and the definitive realization of the need for peer support through critical incident debriefings. The need grew and branched into stress management related services designed to address problems such as Anxiety, Depression, Family/Marriage, and Substance Abuse issues, as well as to mitigate internal stressors.
In both 2017 and 2018, police suicides throughout the country surpassed the number of line of duty deaths. As an organization, Norfolk Police Department would never allow our officers to hit the streets without the proper equipment and training to ensure they return home safely, and we work to ensure they are emotionally and psychologically prepared as well.
As the department navigated through the development of the program, the realization of the need for officer wellness resonated. The department recognized that changing social norms, political structures, anti-law enforcement media response and the onset of a pandemic were additional stressors faced by officers in unprecedented times. The newly established unit concentrated on normalizing wellness services which historically have been taboo in the law enforcement environment. As a result of the push to normalize officer well-being, the CISM-Peer Support Unit expanded into a full time sergeant and two sworn officers. Over a five-year span, the unit has had thousands of officer contacts dealing with matters such as substance abuse, organizational stress, family stress, depression, anxiety, discipline, stress management, death, morale, and other associated issues with a very small budget and a network of resources outside of the city’s EAP. In 2019, the unit navigated through 764 officer contacts related to wellness. In 2020, officer contacts rose an additional 67% based on situational/environmental factors occurring during the time as well as the normalization push by the unit to make wellness a priority.
The time came to expand the capabilities of the CISM-Peer Support Unit with a Wellness Initiative that encompasses not only the intervention and treatment of our officers, but also takes proactive steps that will reduce the stigma of reaching out for help.
The mission of the Norfolk Police Department’s Wellness Initiative headed by the CISM-Peer Support Unit is defined as “reducing or removing interferences to employee wellness, whether personally or professionally induced, by providing help resources, training and intervention.”