Dawn-Elise Snipes(Always) Thinking About Wellness
with Dawn-Elise Snipes

Starting a Wellness Program at Your Department

The departments that have well utilized wellness programs are few and far between. Wellness is more than just working out or eating right. Wellness involves being healthy and happy in mentally, physically and socially. Attending to only one part will only do part of the job. The first step is to understand your department's needs, your budget and the specific factors that motivate (and unmotivated) your officers. Remember that wellness involves fitness; nutrition; physical, mental and interpersonal stress reduction.

Your Department's Needs:
If your department already has an Employee Assistance Program, then you will not necessarily need to add a counseling component. Thoroughly read the EAP's contract. Often times they have agreed to provide services such as educational seminars, 24-hour stress debriefing and group counseling. These services are little known and grossly underused.

Look into non-profit agencies that specialize in working with law enforcement or counselors, nutritionists and fitness instructors who do pro-bono work with cops and their families.

If you are in a college town, see if the university has a health and wellness department that requires students to do internships. Other agencies have access to a nurse or nurse practitioner who is on staff to see all city employees as needed.

If there are people at your department who are already fitness buffs, pay them a monthly stipend and have them get certified as personal trainers and consult with other staff members to develop workout plans.

Sign a contract with a consultant to come in quarterly and do hands-on training on fitness, nutrition and stress reduction. The rest of the year this person can be reached via email, phone or video-conferencing to help people develop workout plans, meal plans, and solve interpersonal problems and other stressors. This also provides a larger amount of confidentiality since the officer will not have to be seen and the consultant.

Get a few officers at your department certified as wellness consultants. This usually runs about $750 per officer, but the certification lasts for two years and can be renewed through continuing education credits. This is much cheaper than hiring a wellness program coordinator at $35,000 to $60,000 per year.

Assess the equipment available and figure out what you really need and what your agency has space for. Nautilus equipment is very expensive and very large. A simple area could include a bench with the leg extension attachment and preacher curl attachment, a squat rack, a 300-pound set of weight plates, and two screw-lock dumbbells. This would accommodate up to six people in average shape working out at the same time with spotters.

See if there is a fitness center in town that will let officers workout for free.

Have all work stations (including patrol cars) checked for ergonomics.

Fitness -
  • Having to spend more time away from their family
  • Feeling like a stranger in a strange land without training on how to use equipment
  • Setting overwhelming goals (I want to put on 20 pounds of muscle by Christmas)
  • Aesthetically unappealing workout environments
  • Dirty locker rooms
  • Lack of a secure place to store their gun-belt etc. at a gym
  • Overtraining
  • Lack of sufficient sleep

Nutrition -
  • All or nothing attitude (cutting out all junk food)
  • Too much changed too fast
  • Lack of education about how to make healthy choices and changes
  • Emotional eating
  • Free food is not always the healthiest
  • But nobody else is eating __________
  • Water makes bathroom breaks more prominent

Social -
  • People get caught in ruts and life passes them by (You do honey-dos all weekend and don't get to spend time with the family or really relax)
  • Too little time in the day
  • Poor planning (especially for people with young kids)

Getting officers to use a wellness program is another matter completely. Some ideas I have seen:

Fitness -
  • Arrange shifts so that there is a 2-hour overlap at least 3 days a week. Officers come in and workout as a squad. This not only ensures that officers are getting healthier but it also increases camaraderie and reduces absenteeism.
  • Half of the shift goes on duty after roll-call and the other half stays and works out unless there is a super-high priority call.
  • Officers are given a free membership to a club and their attendance is logged in and out by computer. They are given credit for up to six documented hours a week for working out.
  • Set up a buddy system for officers with similar fitness levels and goals
  • Give out 8 hours of comp time each month to the officer who has improved the most.
  • Solicit donations for iprizesi to be given out monthly to the person who is most improved on some objective measure, or who attended all of his/her scheduled workouts.

Educate, educate, educate about eating healthfully and cooking healthfully Nutrition quick tips on departmental email.
  • Educational puzzles that, when correctly completed, are turned in for a raffle to win a gift certificate or other prize (movie passes, free dinner somewhere).
  • Provide a weekly menu on departmental e-mail for all of those people who do not feel like making one. This usually runs about $50 per week for the menu and rights for unlimited reproduction within your agency.

Social -
  • For parents -- We signed up for a nanny service that guarantees a qualified, well screened nanny at your door within 2-hours of a request. It was quite expensive initially, but the piece of mind and flexibility it gives us (both being on-call 24/7) is priceless. They not only watch the baby, but also do light housekeeping as an added bonus. (The sign up fee is a great present from in-laws).
  • Keep a running list of babysitters and/or house-dog sitters (at least 10)
  • Plan ahead 4 hours one day a week to go out and do fun things. Very little comes up that cannot wait.
  • Get involved in play groups. Many officers I know are married to people who work on opposite shifts. It can be a very long weekend when you are the only parent on duty.
  • My husband's old squad had a rotating pot-luck on the first Saturday they had off each month. Everyone brought something so the host's financial output was less than $20.
  • Another squad meets at a local restaurant each Friday they are off (this can get quite expensive though).
  • If you are lucky enough to have a wellness coordinator, have that person be responsible for coordinating on the calendar and publicizing these potlucks and social events.
  • Try to minimize mandatory fun.
  • Finally, get away from work and coworkers occasionally. This is true for any occupation. Try to develop a circle of friends who share another similar interest like camping, hiking, motorcycles - anything but police work.

About the author

Add your comments to the discussion on Dawn Elise Snipes' column in the Wellness Issues forum.

Contact Dawn-Elise: wellness@policeone.com

Back to previous page