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. Dr. Johnson is the founder of the Blue Wall Institute where she trains first responders, first responder families, and administrators on wellness issues, suicide awareness and prevention, peer support, stress and anger management, and leadership issues. Due to her perseverance in raising awareness of the issues facing our first responders, was named the Illinois State Representative and active Board Member for the National POLICE Suicide Foundation where she trains, conducts research, publishes articles, and communicates with agencies in need. 
 
Dr. Johnson is a veteran of the United States Air Force, a former police officer, and published author. She is an Associate Member of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), Associate Member of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police (ILACP), member of the International Law Enforcement Educators & Trainers (ILEETA), the National POLICE Suicide Foundation (PSF), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) Illinois Suicide Prevention Alliance member and Suicidology Researcher (three-year term), Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA), a public safety expert writer for SilverHart, Missouri Law Enforcement Funeral Assistance Team member, Serve & Protect Advisory Board member, St. Clair County (IL) Suicide Alliance, and Suicide Prevention/Juvenile Justice Curriculum (SPJJC) Ad Hoc Committee member. Dr. Johnson is an Adjunct Professor for Lindenwood University in Belleville/Collinsville, Illinois. She also writes for several law enforcement and mental health publications and is the Peer Support Columnist for PoliceOne. 

For further information on the Blue Wall Institute and Dr. Olivia Johnson, visit  www.BW-Institute.com.

Contact Olivia Johnson

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