In response to the last few arduous years, which have affected employees’ mental health and general morale, the Portland Police Bureau is enlarging its wellness program.
The bureau launched the program in early 2019 to provide support and opportunities for physical and mental health activities. However, before it had a chance to take off, 2020 hit with the pandemic, and protests and rioting became front-and-center for months, said the officer in charge who is involved in implementing the program.
Officer Eli Arnold, a member of the bureau’s Central Bike Squad, stated, “I had to work for several months straight with very few days off. It was quite unpleasant.” Officer Eli Arnold is just one of the many officers in the PPB who have been greatly affected by the last few years.
The incident of the death of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer in 2020 resulted in protests and riots in Portland. The issue highlighted the nation’s race, justice, and policing struggle. Portland officers said they felt pressure from both city hall and the streets. The job became more complex the following year as crime rates grew, gun violence worsened, and more officers quit.
Officer Amy Bruner-Dehnert, head of the bureau’s Employee Assistance Program, said that some people were still injured and coping with the aftermath.
Last year, 42 Portland police officers retired from their jobs, and nearly 60 police officers left the bureau. Officer Leo Harris, who manages the wellness program for the bureau, stated, “When some of our colleagues left, it felt as if they were running away, and those remaining behind were envious.”
Portland Police Bureau conducted a survey, and the officers surveyed said they felt a sharp decline in morale between 2020 and 2021. Many of them said that this was because of leadership. The report found that “officers are experiencing low morale due to pressure from city and bureau leadership or perceived lack of support.” Therefore, to support our employees’ mental and physical well-being, we allow them to spend one paid hour of their day on wellness activities.
Arnold said he typically does a combination of weights, cardio, and meditation. The bureau’s bike squad works out at Central Precinct gym most of the week. Sgt. Cassandra Wells explained the benefits of exercising: “It keeps me healthy and active and allows me to chase young kids. Also, unfortunately, this job sometimes puts us in life-threatening and risky situations, and I want to go home safely.”
In recent years, many cities and law enforcement organizations have implemented wellness programs as part of a wider effort to invest in their employees’ mental health and well-being.
Bruner-Dehnert said that while most people experience roughly one or two traumatic experiences in their lifetime, Portland officers could face that same number of traumas every week.”
Along with daily wellness hours, the program also offers workshops and seminars on topics such as healthy eating and retirement planning. The bureau will also soon be able to hire its own internal mental health professional, which was recently approved by the city. This professional will help officers who are struggling in their line of work.
Bruner-Dehnert said that we call it emotional first aid. When a traumatic event such as an officer-involved shooting occurs, it’s crucial to have a mental health professional on hand to support the individual and connect them with needed resources.
Some of our new plans for promoting wellness amongst officers include heart screenings and funding interested staff members to get certificates in fitness or sleep so they can act as mentors to their colleagues.
Officer Harris stated that the long-term goal of this wellness program is to improve officers’ health and well-being. He further noted that if we remove barriers, increase morale, and increase our people’s resilience, we will create a better workforce that serves the community better.
In a survey on the PPB’s pilot wellness program, nearly all bureau employees said it positively impacted their health and well-being. And almost everyone believes it boosts morale too.