PORTLAND, Ore. (KPTV) – The Portland Police Bureau is expanding its wellness program after tough years of plummeting morale among officers and staff.
The program, which focuses on providing more support and opportunities for physical and mental health activities, was launched in early 2019 but didn’t have much of a chance to get off the ground before the pandemic hit and protests and riots became a key focus were for the bureau for months of 2020, officials involved in implementing the program said.
“I went in a few weeks before my day off and then I had to deal with it every day for several months,” said Officer Eli Arnold, who is a member of the bureau’s Central Bike Squad. “Yes, it was uncomfortable.”
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The protests and riots relentlessly gripped Portland following the 2020 killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.
It was a focal point in the nation’s reckoning with race, justice, and the police. Portland officials said they felt the heat from City Hall to the streets as the job became increasingly difficult over the next year as crime and gun violence rose and more officers turned in the badge.
“Some people still have injuries that they’re dealing with that they have from that time,” said the bureau’s EAP coordinator, Officer Amy Bruner-Dehnert.
Last year, 42 Portland officials retired and nearly 60 left the office.
“It felt like people were fleeing, and some of the people who were leaving — other people were jealous,” said Officer Leo Harris, who coordinates the office’s wellness program.
A survey conducted for the bureau revealed what officials were already feeling: falling morale at PPB – falling sharply between 2020 and 2021.
Currently, officers and other employees can choose to spend a paid hour of their day focusing on mental or physical wellness activities.
“I usually do a little bit of weights, a little bit of cardio, and try to meditate more and more,” Arnold said.
Find the office bike team at the Central Precinct gym most days of the week.
“It keeps me sane,” said Sgt. Kassandra Wells. “It keeps me able to chase after my little kids. Also, unfortunately, with this job we sometimes face life-threatening situations and I want to be able to go home every night.”
The addition of a wellness program was part of growing awareness from cities and law enforcement agencies in recent years to invest more in the health and well-being of people in tough jobs.
“The average person may face one or two traumatic events in their lifetime, Portland officials might face one or two a week,” Bruner-Dehnert said.
In addition to daily wellness hours, there are also workshops and seminars on topics such as healthy nutrition and retirement provision.
Other big additions are in the pipeline. The city recently approved funding that will allow the bureau to hire its own in-house psychiatrist dedicated to assisting struggling officers.
“We call it emotional first aid,” said Bruner-Dehnert. “So traumatic cases, like a shooting involving an officer, you have them on the spot to talk to that person and set them up for the resources that they might need later on.”
Other new plans include providing officials with cardiac screening and paying interested employees to earn certifications in specific wellness areas, like fitness and sleep, so they can serve as mentors to their peers
Officer Harris said the ultimate goal goes beyond improving officers’ health and happiness.
“As we remove more and more barriers, increase morale, increase people’s ability to be resilient, increase people’s ability to want to work here; then we will have a better workforce that better serves the community,” Harris said.
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PPB’s wellness pilot program survey also found that about 90 percent of the office’s employees said the program had had a positive impact on their health and well-being.
Nearly 100 percent of officials believe the program will boost morale.
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