Officer needs assistance: Are you ready to really help?

The call for an officer in need of assistance brings the cavalry, but how prepared is the cavalry when that brother or sister needs mental health assistance?

Cops are trained to work independently, but when they hear that 10-13 call — or whatever your PD 10-code for ‘officer needs assistance’ might be — individual cops come together quickly and with awe-inspiring force.

Every officer knows the urgency of reaching an officer in need, and officer training ensures that they respond safely, arrive safely, and safely address the problem at the scene so everyone goes home — safely — at the end of the shift. 

That training prepares officers for 10-13 calls by building confidence and competence, but the bond between the men and women in blue (and brown, and green) is something that cannot be taught. 

That is instinct, and it is ultimately a unique bond shared only by those who know the inherent dangers of the job — a bond shared between those willing to risk life and limb for complete strangers as well as fellow officers.

Yes, that 10-13 call for an officer in need of assistance brings the cavalry, but how prepared is the cavalry when that brother or sister needs mental health assistance? 

Would you know what to do if a fellow officer called you, threatening suicide? Or if your backup was completely incapacitated by a mental health emergency? Does the cavalry retreat or do they seek out appropriate assistance? Do they unite or turn their backs? 

Cops are trained to deal with mental health issues encountered on the street but too often lack the training necessary to assist fellow officers with mental health issues. This is due (in part) to the shame and stigma attached to mental illness and mental health issues. 

Terms like “crazy,” “insane,” and “54-50” are often used to describe individuals suffering from mental health issues. 

Officers suffering from mental health issues may not seek help from officers who joke about (or label) those suffering from mental health issues because officers suffering from mental health issues are afraid of being labeled or becoming the brunt of departmental jokes. 

Officers fear being labeled crazy and they fear the repercussions of seeking mental health assistance.

Many will suffer silently, abusing alcohol or drugs to drown their pain. 

Other will partake in risky behavior, daring fate to deal with their pain.

Some will take their own lives to end the pain. 

But we can open the door for officers suffering silently. We can stop labeling those suffering from mental health issues — stop labeling them as crazy or insane or other terms which are not only hurtful, but can impede those officers who need help. 

We can stop joking about individuals suffering from mental illness, and refuse to condone fellow officers who participate in such behavior. 

Oftentimes, those who joke, laugh, and label are ignorant about mental illness. They are ignorant about what mental illness is, how it is treated, and how to deal with those who suffer. 

No one is immune from the consequences of mental illness, including law enforcement personnel. The time for change and understanding is now. It starts with training and education on issues surrounding mental health. 

Officers are the first line of defense for fellow officers in need — just remember that officer in need could be you. 

About the author

Dr. Olivia Johnson holds a master’s in Criminology and Criminal Justice from the University of Missouri, St. Louis and a doctorate in Organizational Leadership Management from the University of Phoenix – School of Advanced Studies. Perseverance in raising awareness to officer wellness resulted in her being named the Illinois State Representative and Board Member for the National P.O.L.I.C.E. Suicide Foundation. This role led to her being invited to speak at the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit’s 2010 – Beyond Survival Toward Officer Wellness (BeSTOW) Symposium. 

Dr. Johnson is a veteran of the United States Air Force and a former police officer. She collaborates with several law enforcement publications and is a columnist for She was recently asked to lead the peer support section with Crisis Systems Management, where she trains Military and Law Enforcement personnel worldwide on Critical Incident Peer Support (CIPS) and Law Enforcement Resiliency – Peer Support (LERPS). 

Dr. Johnson and the Blue Wall Institute have partnered with the University of Wisconsin-Platteville to bring The Balanced Warrior: Proactive Officer Wellness class online. Recent speaking engagements include: FBI National Academy Associates Conference 2013, International Association of Chiefs of Police [IACP] Conference 2013, National Interdiction Conference 2013, Midwest Security & Police Conference 2012, and the International Law Enforcement Educators & Trainers Association [ILEETA] 2012. 

For further information on the Blue Wall Institute and Dr. Olivia Johnson, visit

Contact Olivia Johnson

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  2. Health - Physical and Mental Fitness

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