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Together we are stronger

Shifting the officer safety paradigm beyond tactics to include health, wellness

07 Jun 2017 4:12 PM | International Public Safety Association (Administrator)

By Lieutenant Tim Murphy, Paso Robles (CA) Police Department, IPSA Memorial Committee

The concept of officer safety in law enforcement is stressed from day one in the academy and remains prominent throughout our careers. All of us in law enforcement have read a training bulletin, seen a BOLO teletype or heard a radio broadcast with the ‘officer safety’ heading. 

Officer safety related posters are displayed in locker rooms, break rooms, briefing rooms and report writing rooms across the nation reminding us to wear our vests, drive defensively and remain vigilant. As you drive out of the parking lot to start your tour of duty, you may even see a sign reminding you to wear your seat belt.  

As a profession, we are proactive when it comes to our officer safety tactics, techniques and procedures.

An oath to protect others and ourselves

All officers take an oath to serve and protect. We voluntarily signed on to face the risks inherent in our job, and we do our best to mitigate those risks by wearing our vests, driving defensively, clicking our seatbelts on and donning our personal protective equipment when dealing with a biohazard. 

Even so, we can never mitigate all risks to zero – it is simply impossible. However, we can make great strides in reducing the health-related risks by taking a proactive approach to our health and wellness tactics, techniques and procedures.

Officer safety includes health, wellness

As human beings, we are all experiencing the effects of time and aging – it’s a reality we must face and respond to as law enforcement professionals.

All officers are dealing with the effects of the job. New recruits, command level and executives all go through irregular hours and shift work, interrupted or varied meal periods, high stress or periods of inactivity followed by intense physical and mental stress.

There are three things that all officers can do to be proactive about health and wellness in the fast paced, high stress world of law enforcement.

  1. Eating right: Take some time to prepare your work meals and snacks at home before shifts. Have healthy snacks ready to go, at home and at work. To avoid cravings, try to eat consistently to avoid a drop in your blood sugar.

    Do your best to balance your meals with protein, fiber and healthy fats. This will help you slow your digestion and keep you full.

    Start reading food labels to see exactly what you are consuming. Avoid highly processed foods and try to get as many servings of fruits and vegetables as possible throughout the day.

    Stay hydrated. This is critical to normal body functions. The U.S. Department of Defense and Special Operations Command have produced a valuable nutrition guide titled ‘The Special Operations Forces Nutrition Guide’ which is full of recommendations that you can incorporate into decision making.

  2. Sleep: Lack of sleep on a consistent basis has been shown to lead to several long-term health problems, such as obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Consistent sleep patterns are vital to good overall health.

    Shift work makes it difficult to maintain ‘normal’ sleep patterns. However, it can be done. The National Sleep Foundation has several recommendations to help Tips for Sleeping During the Day - Shift Work Disorder. Some of these tips include darkening your bedroom with shades or curtains, keeping cool and avoiding alcohol before bedtime.

  3. Exercise: If you already exercise, great. If not, get started now. There is truly no reason that you can’t exercise if you’re on active police duty.

    Simple daily activities like walking, playing with your kids or taking your dog to the park have been shown to produce positive health effects. The U.S. Surgeon General recommends engaging in at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity each week.

Each one of the three major areas may seem too daunting to tackle, let alone trying to make changes in all three areas. However, I am confident you each face and successfully handle bigger challenges every day in your work assignments.  You know you can do this.

Workout at a pace that fits your situation and lifestyle. Start with easy changes (pack your lunch instead of eating out, drink water instead of that routine cup of coffee, go for a walk instead of sitting in front of the TV). Incorporate these changes into your daily routines and you will start to feel better. As stated by Charles J. Givens, “Achieve success in any area of life by identifying the optimum strategies and repeating them until they become habits.”

Officer safety is a serious topic. The threats faced by domestic law enforcement have evolved over the years and in response, our profession has upgraded our tactics, techniques and procedures. 

I encourage each of you to take a few moments to review your personal health and wellness tactics, techniques and procedures.

By no means do I profess to be a fitness or nutrition expert. I do not espouse any exercise regimen or tout the wonders of any specific diet, but I do know from personal experience that a few simple steps can make a big difference. Finally, before beginning any exercise programs be sure to consult with your primary care provider.

About the Author

Tim Murphy currently serves as the Support Services Commander at the Paso Robles (CA) Police Department. He is commander of the San Luis Obispo Regional SWAT Team and holds a B.S. Degree in criminal justice from California State University (Sacramento) and a Master’s Degree in Justice Administration from Norwich University. During his 27-year career, he has served as a field training officer, motor officer, detective, and SWAT operator.

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