In 2019, 228 law enforcement officers in the United States took their own lives. The profession of law enforcement is one of the most potentially dangerous and traumatizing careers in the country.  

Deputies are exposed daily to events and incidents of tragedy. They work 12-hour shifts, both days and nights, which often involve overtime. They are expected to function at a high level of awareness and self-control regardless of the crisis and trauma they are called to respond to to ensure public safety. These and other factors generate stressors that can, in time, become detrimental to an officer’s physical and mental health. 

“Wellness programs for law enforcement personnel are showing up all over the country, guided by the expertise of psychologists, researchers, physicians, fitness trainers, and spiritual leaders of all stripes,” said Dr. Kris Falco, psychologist, Police Services. 

“These programs are showing significant promise in the reduction of officer-reported stress, improved job performance and satisfaction, and more effective decision making abilities under stress.“

For a few years now, the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office has been doing research in the field of law enforcement officer wellness for retention of personnel and expansion of services. 

“Given recent events, we acknowledge the necessity and urgency to launch the new Health of the Force Initiative (HOFI),” said Sergeant Jayson Janes in a press release announcing the initiative. “This 21st Century program, supported in part by grants, will not only enrich our current peer support program, but enhance the current partnership we have in place with the Central Oregon Public Safety Chaplaincy (COPC). “

The Health of the Force Initiative institutes a voucher system for “no questions asked” behavioral health counseling. Ten local providers have been established so that deputy sheriffs will have timely opportunities to seek help for themselves and their immediate families. 

The program is also scheduled to have cardiac scans for those who want to participate in individual sleep studies to determine their quality of sleep. 

“We are providing yoga and chair massage to on-duty deputies and promoting mindfulness training. These are holistic practices shown to successfully relieve and reduce stress,” Sgt. Janes reported. “In developing the Initiative we partnered closely with the Bend Police Department whose officer wellness program received high marks in the 2019 U.S. Department of Justice Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness study

The program will also eventually provide gym and training space.

The Sheriff’s Office received a grant of over $111,000 to be used for the DCSO peer support program. The peer-support program provides public-safety employees an opportunity to receive physical, psychological, and emotional support through times of personal or professional crisis. This money will be used to provide training and technology to members of the peer support team as well as therapy referrals.