A training course hosted at Lanier Technical College this week may be the final piece for officers that will allow them to stay in the profession and lead healthier lives, the instructors said.
The three-day course from Tuesday, Jan. 19, through Thursday, Jan. 21, was for 14 officers from various Georgia law enforcement agencies on what is being called the “Georgia Resiliency Program.”
According to the Hall County Sheriff’s Office, the program focuses on the “message of mental, physical, social and spiritual health strategies” for officers.
JC Buddy Johnson, who is a national master instructor for officer resiliency, said he believes the course is “completing the circle of training” for a law enforcement officer.
“We train really well to get our officers prepared,” Johnson said. “We train them how to deal with situations when they occur. … But where, nationally, we’ve kind of failed the officers is we really didn’t train them how to deal with themselves when it’s all over, the trauma from it, the stress that they see.”
Johnson said they have started noticing nationally an increase in officer suicides and other health problems.
Blue HELP, a national organization focusing on law enforcement mental health and suicide, said there were 182 officer suicides in 2018, 239 suicides in 2019 and 173 in 2020. There were four reported so far this year, according to Blue HELP.
The Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council and Peace Officers Association of Georgia are organizing the program.
“When we purchase a new vehicle or some other piece of equipment, we require our officers to perform regular maintenance on that item,” Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council Executive Director Mike Ayers said in a statement. “We write policy governing the use of that item, and we require our officers to demonstrate proficiency with that tool before we allow them to use it. Tools cost money, and we have an obligation to use those funds well. We care for and perform preventative maintenance on those items, but do we do the same for our most important asset, our people?”
Johnson said the program has been tweaked from a model in place in New Jersey.
Hall County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Greg Cochran said two from the department have been certified as master instructors, as Cochran was in the inaugural class for Georgia law enforcement.
“The first goal is to certify around 80 to 100 master instructors throughout the state and then begin teaching frontline officers as well as civilian employees,” Cochran said.
When it comes time to train the officers, Johnson said it would likely be 12 classes total that could take a year to two years for an officer to complete.
“The goal is to get them these tools so that they can deal with the stresses that they have to deal with on a day-to-day basis,” Johnson said.
Johnson said the core of the program is giving officers the tools to think things through.
One example is called “changing your playbook,” which involves the habit of falling into routines.
“Sometimes what happens is that doesn’t work anymore or technology changes or maybe the community’s attitude towards police changes,” Johnson said. “We’ve seen that obviously in the last few years. If you’re still using the same mindset, same techniques, same everything, you get into a rut and eventually you bottom out … or even when it doesn’t work, you fail to change.”
Another example was gratitude. Finding things to be grateful for leads to a positive attitude, which improves morale, productivity and the way we communicate with the outside world, Johnson said.
“In a day and age where the stresses of serving as a law enforcement officer are at perhaps their highest point ever, it’s critical that we foster an environment where our men and women are empowered and supported in taking care of their own physical, mental and spiritual well-being,” Sheriff Gerald Couch said in a statement. “I fully endorse the critical work being started by our partners with the Georgia Resiliency Program and look forward to a cultural shift in our profession where we no longer expect (law enforcement officers) to merely, ‘tough it out,’ when it comes to the tragedy they see on an almost daily basis. I am honored that the Sheriff’s Office is able to host this course, and I’m excited to see this program grow in our state.”