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Officer safety and wellness: Smartphones can play a key role

18 Mar 2022 7:47 AM | International Public Safety Association (Administrator)

By Dale Stockton

Ask any law enforcement leader to prioritize his or her responsibilities and it's virtually certain that officer safety and wellness will be at or near the top of the list. When an officer is seriously injured or killed in the line of duty, there is tremendous impact on the agency. And when an officer is lost to suicide, it’s devastating to the organization and lives are forever changed. Regardless of the cause, the physical, emotional, and financial consequences are incalculable. There is growing realization that leaders have an affirmative responsibility to equip and train their personnel to emotionally cope with the challenges of a job that society continues to redefine. Accordingly, command staff personnel around the country are taking steps to address this issue and, for many, smartphones are emerging as a powerful tool to improve both officer safety and officer wellness.

Officer safety benefits of smartphones

Smartphones provide incredible utility to field personnel, empowering them with real-time access to mission-critical and mission-essential information. Officers sometimes live or die based on the quality and timeliness of information, and smartphones ensure that all field personnel can be more situationally aware, regardless of their assignment or proximity to a patrol vehicle. Smartphones can provide geo-location at a person level, which can prove critical in foot pursuits or situations where an officer may be unable to communicate, and they can serve as a backup communication device to conventional radio systems. 

Officer wellness and the role of smartphones

Although officer safety has long been recognized as a basic tenet of the profession, the concept of officer wellness is relatively new, and is an effort to address the cumulative stress borne by those who stand in the gap for society. Unlike many professions, people coming into law enforcement commonly go through extensive screening, including physical exams, psychological testing, and in-depth background investigations. As a result, those entering police work generally exhibit a high level of resiliency. Nonetheless, the toll of ongoing exposure to physical and emotional trauma can prove overwhelming to many, resulting in career burnout, chemical dependency, and even suicide.  

As agency leaders seek solutions, smartphones are proving to be a valuable tool by providing 24/7 access to helpful resources. The traditional approach for many agencies has long been to have some form of peer support, a system that relies on officers seeking help from other officers. Although this can be effective, it often falls short. There are several reasons for this, including limited resources, insufficient training, and an understandable reticence to seek help from a coworker. Smartphones are providing a powerful option.

Dr. David Black is a psychologist who has worked with law enforcement for twenty years and is a widely recognized expert on officer wellness. He is the founder of Cordico, which developed a mobile app now being used by hundreds of police, fire, and EMS agencies across the country. Cordico allows first responders to use a smartphone to access resources that support mental and emotional well-being. Dr. Black readily acknowledges that the ubiquity and utility of smartphones have played a key role in providing this powerful wellness tool to first responders.

“Mobile is great because you have it with you all the time and it’s allowed us to take all things needed for wellness, put it in their hands, and they can get to it 24/7,” said Black. “All these resources that were so difficult to access – a vetted therapist or a dedicated chaplain, or how to save your marriage - we’ve taken all of that and put it directly into the hands of first responders.”

Black says that first responder wellness is an issue that every agency faces. “These people come in tough and ready to serve, they’re physically fit. Then we see them subjected to the stressors of the job and it just compounds. This [officer wellness] is important – it’s about the preservation of life.”

Officer health: Smartphones can help  

In addition to specialized applications like Cordico, smartphones provide officers with access to apps that can facilitate a healthier approach to life – both on the job and off. Many officers now use their smartphones to keep track of their daily steps, sometimes even comparing them with co-workers and working towards an activity goal that will ensure a baseline level of activity. Other apps can assist with getting sufficient rest, providing nutritional guidance (even tracking food intake), or suggesting the best alternative when choosing a fast-food menu item on the graveyard shift. Speaking of the graveyard shift, smartphones can be used to alert the user to a prolonged period of inactivity – such as sitting in a car for extended periods – and encourage a stretch or activity break.  

T-Mobile’s commitment to public safety

In May 2020, Mike Sievert, the CEO of T-Mobile, announced the launch of Connecting Heroes, an ambitious and unparalleled ten-year commitment to a public-private partnership that supplies free, subsidized, and low-cost smartphone connectivity and technology assistance to state and local first responders. Continuing that commitment to public safety, T-Mobile for Government proudly sponsored the IPSA webinar, Why Command Staff Needs to Prioritize Officer Safety and Wellness, presented by Nicholas Grego, the author of many wellness articles and the president and founder of C3 Education and Research, Inc. Everyone can view the recording here.

About the Author

Dale Stockton is a 32-year-veteran of law enforcement, having worked in all areas of police operations and retiring as a police captain from Carlsbad, California. He taught criminal justice classes for more than 20 years and is the former Editor-in-Chief of Law Officer Magazine and Stockton is the founder of Below 100, an award-winning officer-safety initiative designed to reduce police line-of-duty deaths and has been involved in the presentation of the program across North America. Stockton is an accomplished technology practitioner and has managed major technology projects for public safety including personnel-locate devices, license plate recognition systems, and regional deployment of smartphones. 

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