DENVER, CO – After a rash of officer arrests involving alcohol, the Denver Police Department has rolled out a new program designed to help officers deal with addictions and stress — problems that, if ignored, can derail a career.
Six Denver cops were arrested on alcohol-related charges during the first half of this year, prompting Chief Robert White to say he was concerned about officers’ wellness.
He ordered a review of how the department handled reports of alcohol abuse among its nearly 1,400 officers and instructed a committee to come up with a plan to address the problem.
The police department has named the plan the “resiliency program,” and the goal is to help officers cope with the bad things they see on the streets, said program coordinator Lt. Rick Kyle.
“This is to try to get someone help before we have disciplinary issues,” Kyle said Friday. “If something happens, if someone gets a DUI, it would still go to internal affairs.”
The program was introduced to officers in August, and several already have sought help, Kyle said.
An important feature of the new program is confidentiality and convincing officers that they will not harm their careers by reporting themselves or referring co-workers for help, Kyle said.
In police culture, cops stand up for one another and are reluctant to report a fellow officer who may have problems.
But the Denver police program has taken steps to convince its ranks that referring a fellow officer is helping, not harming, them, Kyle said.
The program has been separated from the department’s offices that deal with formal disciplinary problems. No one from the offices of internal affairs, professional standards or conduct review is involved.
Kyle is the sole coordinator, and he said his lips are sealed when it comes to who has enrolled in the program. He works out of the police department’s academy, so those who come for help don’t go near the department’s headquarters and its command staff.
As long as any officer’s addiction does not involve major drugs such as cocaine or heroin, the problem will not be reported up the chain of command, he said.
Nick Rogers, president of the Denver Police Protective Association, said he has faith in the promised confidentiality.
“It’s a great step in the right direction,” he said.
Police and alcohol have long been partners. Some officers drink booze to unwind and forget about the violence, abused children, dead teenagers and other horrors witnessed on the job.
This year’s arrests included three officers charged with driving under the influence, an officer arrested for soliciting a prostitute and a detective accused of shooting up his house in a drunken rage while his wife and children were at home. A detective was charged after he and his wife got into a drunken brawl with another Denver police officer and his wife.
Since White ordered the review, two more officers have come under investigation for alcohol-related incidents, said department spokesman Sonny Jackson, who would not elaborate on the allegations.
In 2013, there were only four officer arrests.
A 2012 article in The Journal of Law Enforcement reported that one in 12 Americans abuses alcohol. It cited research that estimated alcohol abuse among police officers was twice that.
White said he has spoken to other police chiefs around the country about ways their departments are trying to help officers.
At the Denver Police Department, officers can volunteer to enter the program. And fellow officers, family members and supervisors can refer them for help.
Sergeants and other supervisors will be trained to recognize signs of stress and addiction — a once-punctual officer is now arriving later, or paperwork is increasingly sloppy.
Once an officer is referred to the program, Kyle meets with him or her and explains options for getting help. He can refer them to a psychologist who works with the police department. If the cop needs to enter an in-patient rehab facility, Kyle can help the officer navigate the Family Medical Leave Act and insurance paperwork.
Officers can refuse to enroll. But Kyle said he carefully will explain that if their behavior is causing others to notice a problem, then it will be in their best interest to get help.
“If they’re having a problem that is bleeding over into work, I’m sure their personal life is in shambles,” he said.
The program will do more than address addictions and family stress, Kyle said.
He plans to offer seminars and information to improve all-around wellness through exercise and diet.
“We work shifts,” he said. “We’re on call. Sleep deprivation is a huge stressor on people.”
The department hopes the program works so well that next year it won’t have to deal with reports of officers who have been arrested on drunken driving charges or other charges where booze led to bad decisions.
“That’s what I’m hoping,” Kyle said with a smile and with his fingers crossed.
From The Denver Post