Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal today took steps to protect the physical and emotional well-being of New Jersey law enforcement officers by ensuring that they are provided with the tools they need to cope with the unique stressors of their jobs.
Addressing a rise in reported police suicides nationwide, Attorney General Grewal issued a law enforcement directive – known as the “Officer Resiliency Directive” – implementing the New Jersey Resiliency Program for Law Enforcement (“NJRP-LE’), a first-in-the-nation statewide program to train officers in resiliency and to become better equipped to handle the daily stress of police work that, when left unchecked, may lead to physical ailments, depression, and burnout.
In so doing, New Jersey will become the first state in the country to require that all state, county, and municipal law enforcement agencies designate a Resiliency Program Officer (RPO) who will be specifically trained in – and ultimately train their departments in – resiliency.
As part of the Directive, Attorney General Grewal announced the creation of a “Chief Resiliency Officer,” who will be responsible for ensuring implementation of the statewide program. Attorney General Grewal announced that he had selected Robert Czepiel, the Chief of the Prosecutors Supervision and Training Bureau in the Division of Criminal Justice, as the state’s first-ever Chief Resiliency Officer, who will be responsible for overseeing the statewide program.
“We cannot fully comprehend the emotional and mental stress that our law enforcement officers suffer on a daily basis,” said Attorney General Grewal. “We owe it to them to not only combat the stigma associated with seeking help, but also to give them the tools they need to deal with the stress and trauma they endure. It is our hope that this first-in-the-nation program will serve as a first line of communication allowing officers to unburden job stresses and provide them with the support they deserve. We can no longer allow them to suffer in silence.”
Job stress also puts law enforcement officers at a higher risk for health- and social-related issues, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, substance misuse, family and relationship stress, and self-harm.
A recent white paper commissioned by the Ruderman Family Foundation, a philanthropic organization, found that police officers are more likely to die by suicide than in the line of duty. According to Blue H.E.L.P., a nonprofit organization that tracks and monitors law enforcement suicides, at least 167 officers died by suicide last year, more than the total number of line-of-duty deaths. In New Jersey, according to this organization, 37 law enforcement officers reportedly have died by suicide since 2016. These statistics are believed to be conservative because law enforcement suicides have been historically underreported.
The NJRP-LE is designed to change a culture in which officers are often reluctant to seek help for work-related stress. The program fosters an environment that encourages officers to communicate with each other and with their families.
Rather than “spiraling down,” officers are provided with techniques and services that help them to “spiral up” and meet day-to-day challenges. The program emphasizes officers’ positive strengths, rather than their weaknesses. Based upon the belief that people are not born resilient but rather learn to be resilient through life experiences, the NJRP-LE promotes and encourages a “growth mindset,” as opposed to a restrictive “fixed mindset.”
“The constant exposure to society’s most difficult problems can take an emotional toll on law enforcement officers that, if not addressed, can build up over time, often with tragic consequences,” said Director Veronica Allende of the Division of Criminal Justice. “Our goal is to teach law enforcement officers how to recognize and manage that stress to remain mentally healthy and avoid going down a dark hole.”
The NJRP-LE is not designed to replace already existing programs, such as Employee Assistance Programs or the very successful “Cop2Cop” program, that already provide a support and referral structure for officers in need or in crisis. Instead, it is designed to work in tandem with these programs by widening the net to cover all law enforcement officers, not just those in crisis or need.
“As the director of Cop2Cop for 20 years and the wife of a law enforcement professional, I firmly believe this innovative program provides a much needed service that our police community deserves,” said Cherie Castellano, Director of the Cop2Cop Program. “Law enforcement suicide prevention is fostered by building strength, as well as by responding to crisis needs. This project will create a needed continuum of law enforcement peer support. Resiliency officers in every community will partner to hand off to Cop2Cop for telephone-based peer support with our retired officer peer counselors and clinicians ensuring assessment and referral to our Cop2Cop provider network. In addition, we can refer our Cop2Cop callers to a Resiliency Officer from their community who can meet with them face-to-face. Both options offer ongoing peer support and a strength-based approach to preserving our most precious resource in New Jersey-our law enforcement officers.”
The NJRP-LE also recognizes that officers must feel comfortable speaking with an RPO. As a result, AG Directive 2019-1 protects the confidentiality of communications between a law enforcement officer and an RPO. Law enforcement officers will be provided a list of all RPOs throughout the state, giving them the option to speak to an RPO outside of their department. The Directive also encourages law enforcement agencies to use Chaplain programs to promote open communication.
“In recognition of the emotional and mental health challenges our law enforcement officers face every day and the secondary dangers associated with policing, it is essential to provide them with the necessary training, tools and resources to promote resilience and well-being,” said Pat Colligan, President of the New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association. “In its purest sense, this directive acknowledges and recognizes the dangers our law enforcement officers face on a daily basis and will be added to the tool box of programs already in place to protect our officers.”
“I would like to thank Attorney General Grewal for working hard to put this resiliency program together with the help of our all law enforcement groups,” said Robert W. Fox, President of the New Jersey State Fraternal Order of Police. “This program is well overdue to protect our officers that protect our citizens every day. It is quickly forgotten by the public how dealing with tragedies, such as our last two recent ones, in El Paso and Dayton, will haunt these officers during their careers and have lasting effects on them and their families. I would like to thank General Grewal from the members of the New Jersey State Fraternal Order of Police.”
AG Directive 2019-1 requires every law enforcement officer in the state to be trained in the NJRP-LE by the end of 2022. The training is a two-day training with a mix of lectures and practical exercises.
Pursuant to the Directive, every law enforcement agency in the state must appoint at least one Resiliency Program Officer or “RPO” who, once trained, will be responsible for implementing the NJRP-LE in their agency.
This Directive grew from the efforts of a working group that included representatives from the Division of Criminal Justice, Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office, Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office, New Jersey State Police, Acadia Healthcare, The New Jersey Chaplains Association, Atlantic County Sheriff’s Department, Maple Shade Police Department and the New Jersey Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services.
“I would like to express my deep appreciation to Attorney General Grewal and Director Allende for their whole-hearted support of the officer resiliency initiative from our very first discussions about it,” said Burlington County Prosecutor Scott Coffina. “Law enforcement officers literally put their lives on the line for us on every shift, every day, and must remain hyper-vigilant to protect their own physical well-being. This and other stresses of the job can take a toll on their mental well-being, however, in ways that can manifest themselves in depression, distraction on the job, alcohol abuse, family problems, and in the worst-case scenario, suicide. The resiliency program will provide education and support for officers to recognize and help manage the many stressors of the job, which will result in healthier officers and better community relations. This program has nothing but upside and we are proud to have taken a leadership role in its development.”
Under the leadership of Maple Shade Police Chief Christopher Fletcher, law enforcement officers and command staff from Maple Shade are already trained in the NJRP-LE. Family members of the law enforcement officer are also provided an opportunity to go through the same training.
“My goal from the beginning with this training was to better equip officers to process and cope with the negative effects of trauma that they encounter on a daily basis. In Maple Shade specifically, my vision included caring for and training our family members and Chaplain Corp in an effort to strengthen and educate the support systems around us,” said Chief Christopher J. Fletcher of the Maple Shade Police Department. “I enthusiastically support the expansion of this program throughout the State of New Jersey and am grateful that officer wellness is taking such a priority for Attorney General Grewal and Director Allende. In the end, this program helps to reshape the lens that we use to look at the world around us with an improved attitude and thankful disposition and that is something which is certainly good for everyone involved.”
Attorney General thanked the members of the Resiliency Program Working Group for their assistance in the creation and expansion of the New Jersey Resiliency Programs for Law Enforcement. Members of the group include representatives from the Division of Criminal Justice, the Burlington County Prosecutors Office, the Ocean County Prosecutors Office, the County Prosecutors Association of New Jersey, the New Jersey State Police, the New Jersey Department of Corrections, the New Jersey State Parole Board, the Camden County Department of Corrections; the Atlantic County Sheriff’s Department, the New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association, the State Trooper’s Fraternal Association, the New Jersey State Troopers Non-Commissioned Officers Association, New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police, the Pemberton Township Police Department, the Maple Shade Police Department, the Burlington Township Police Department, the Lakewood Police Department, the East Windsor Police Department, the Trenton Police Department, the Village of Ringwood Police Department, the Bergenfield Police Department, the Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services’ Disaster and Terrorism Branch, the New Jersey Chaplains Association, Acadia Healthcare, the County Detectives Chiefs of Police Association, the Passaic County Sheriff’s Office-Superior Officers Association, the New Jersey State Fraternal Order of Police, the Institute for Forensic Psychology, the Ian Oliu Foundation, and the Family & Friends of Detective Edward Zurbyzcki.