CopShock: Second Edition
Surviving Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

by Allen R. Kates, MFAW, BCECR

 Peer Support for Police Officers

Since the 1980s, many law enforcement stress programs have trained police officers to offer support to fellow officers experiencing stress and trauma. Because both “counselors” and officers seeking help wear a badge, a bond of trust is quickly formed. Peer supporters can empathize with situations and feelings other officers undergo. And most important, confidentiality (under most circumstances) is maintained. Otherwise, the peer support program would fail.

In many police forces they are not called “counselors.” They are referred to as “peer supporters.” This is perhaps a better depiction of the role, as peer supporters do not usually offer therapy. Instead, they provide comfort, intervention, education and referrals. A peer support program does not replace the services of mental health professionals.

California Peer Support Association (CPSA)
The CPSA is a good example of a support organization for peer support personnel. It is dedicated to the advancement, promotion, and enhancement of peer support and peer support programs for law enforcement, fire, and allied emergency service personnel in the state of California. However, the goals and programs of this organization could be duplicated in any jurisdiction for the betterment of all law enforcement. In addition to training seminars, the CPSA also conducts a conference every year to further the education of peer support people.
   Go to: Write: CPSA, PO Box 163, La Mesa, CA 91944.


Cop2Cop Telephone Helpline
Cop2Cop is a confidential telephone helpline for New Jersey police officers. It offers 24 hour/7days a week help from fellow officers who understand what officers are experiencing. The service is staffed by retired officers who are licensed Clinical Social Workers, along with retired officers who are trained as peer supporters. The organization offers peer and clinical support services, clinical assessments, referrals, and critical incident stress management while maintaining confidentiality.
   After a number of police suicides in the 1990s, New Jersey community leaders felt that police officers needed a confidential, safe outlet to talk to peers who could understand and provide support without judgment. So they legislated Cop2Cop into law to focus on suicide prevention and mental health support. This is a resource every police department across the country needs, and serves as a model program.
   Go to: 24-Hour Hotline: 866-267-2267 (866-Cop2Cop). E-mail: They will answer emails within 48 hours.


Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers
The International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA) is a professional organization that helps train instructors in criminal justice professions. As well as offering periodicals and training opportunities, it provides an annual international training conference and expo.
   Go to: Write: ILEETA, PO Box 1003, Twin Lakes, WI 53181. Phone: 262-279-7879.


Peer Support Training Institute (PSTI)
The Peer Support Training Institute conducts peer support training for New York City’s Police Department peer support program, POPPA (Police Officers Providing Peer Assistance). Since the inception of POPPA (originally MAP) in 1995, PSTI has been an integral part of its development and continues to train two new groups of volunteer NYPD officers each year. (See POPPA next). PSTI’s program is used as a model for police departments worldwide.

   Who are peer supporters? What are they expected to do? These important questions are addressed by Dr. Ronnie M. Hirsh, Director of PSTI, a division of Manhattan Counseling and Psycho-therapy Associates, LLC, in the following material:

   “At PSTI, peer supporters are trained to be a supportive resource, serving as a friendly sounding board to allow clients to explore feelings, ideas, and alternatives to situations. Peer supporters are taught to help clients identify issues of concern, and refer them to professionals when necessary rather than give advice or try to solve the problems. As a result of training, peer supporters develop greater self-awareness and improved sensitivity to the needs of others as well as increased confidence in their peer support skills.”

   Dr. Hirsh says that PSTI tailors training programs to the needs of individual law enforcement organizations seeking to develop a peer support program. The training is comprehensive, covering a wide range of topics that peer supporters must know to effectively assist fellow officers. Training programs adhere to the standards set by the IACP (International Association of Chiefs of Police), Psychological Services section. He stresses that the training material is reinforced “by experiential exercises to ensure that peer supporters understand their role and feel comfortable applying their skills.”

   He adds, “A great emphasis is placed on providing peer supporters with helpful communication techniques to create a safe, nonjudgmental, and confidential environment that facilitates trust and openness for those seeking help. The training includes information about depression, suicide preven-tion, alcohol abuse, relationship problems, critical incident stress, and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.” The training covers add-itional topics including those dealing with ethical issues and making assessments and referrals. A more comprehensive description of their training model and their peer support training textbook, Cop to Cop can be found on their website.

   Go to: Write: Manhattan Counseling and Psychotherapy Associates, LLC, Peer Support Training Institute, 61 West 9th Street, New York, NY 10011. Phone: 212-477-8050.


Police Organization Providing Peer Assistance (POPPA)
Plagued by twenty-six suicides of police officers in two years, the New York City Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association (PBA) formed a peer support organization today known as POPPA. It was created by William Genêt, a PBA union trustee and police officer with thirty-two years experience.

   When I met Bill in 1993, he was distressed that troubled, even suicidal officers, rather than seeking help from the administration, preferred to suffer. They didn’t believe the administration would support them or maintain confidentiality. By 1996, Bill had realized his dream of forming an intervention, referral and treatment organization run by cops for cops.

   Peer support officers (PSOs) in the program emphasize that voluntarily seeking help for personal problems is a sign not of weakness but of strength. POPPA also wants to get help for members early, before problems become insurmountable and possibly lead to suicide.
   The POPPA website describes how and why POPPA was formed, and lists New York City area support groups for police officers as well as support groups for police families. Here’s how POPPA describes some of what they do:

   “The POPPA Organization provides peer support for New York City police officers experiencing personal or professional problems, such as trauma, stress, depression, alcohol abuse, or family problems. The POPPA Organization is an independent, not-for-profit agency, offering entirely confidential services through trained volunteers from the NYPD. Officers calling the POPPA Organization's HelpLine can meet with a fellow officer immediately or the next day. If needed, the POPPA Organization can refer an officer to a mental health professional within the POPPA Organization's network and the officer's own insurance plan, while continuing to provide peer support. The POPPA Organization's services are available 24 hours a day, every day of the year, to any New York City police officer who voluntarily seeks them.”

   POPPA is a milestone in police circles because it is union initiated. Bill says POPPA can be adapted to any size department, large or small, and he would be happy to assist other unions and departments in creating their own programs. See Retirement for information on POPPA’s Retiree Program.

   Go to: Write: POPPA, Inc, Bill Genêt, Director, 26 Broadway, Room 1640, New York, NY 10004-1898, Phone: 212-298-9111. 24-Hour Member Hotline: 888-267-7267. Retiree HelpLine: 800-599-1085.


Self-Support Group
In New York City, Tony Senft is president of The Police Self-Support Group. It provides comfort for officers who have been wounded physically and are forgotten. It also supports officers who have experienced emotional trauma.

   Meeting once a month, members visit officers in the hospital or at home and lecture at the police academy. The group features social functions like barbecues and parties that allow injured officers to remain part of the law enforcement community.

   A self-support group can be started in any department, and Tony would be pleased to provide information about how the New York organization is run. Write: Tony Senft, 299 Pond Road, Bohemia, NY 11716-3410. Phone: 516-244-9002.


Why Police Departments Want To Provide Peer Support
Besides providing the public with the best-trained officers, police departments are mostly concerned about the bottom line. Since that’s the case, then departments should clamor to provide peer support programs. Why? Because it is cheaper to keep a trained officer than it is to hire a new one. It is cheaper to send officers to counseling than it is to replace them.

   To train an officer can cost a department thousands, as much as $500,000 over a five-year period in some jurisdictions. Does a department really want to lose that investment and then spend it all over again to train a new officer? Too many times we’ve heard that officers were fired or forced out because they developed PTSD or other stress-related illnesses. Rather than send the officer to get help, their department’s view seemed to be, Well, if you can’t cut it, get out.

   That attitude is counterproductive and costly to a department. Look at these figures from Developing a Law Enforcement Stress Program for Officers and their Families by Peter Finn and Julie Esselman Tomz, 1997. (The entire 222-page book published by the National Institute of Justice can be accessed online for free at: Page 169.

Example #1:
Barrington Psychiatric Center, Los Angeles, CA

  • Average cost of intervention where posttraumatic stress was diagnosed soon after a critical incident: $8,300 per person.
  • Average cost where treatment delayed: $46,000 per person.
  • Officers who received prompt treatment returned to work in 12 weeks.
  • Officers who received delayed treatment returned to work in 46 weeks.

Example #2:
Philadelphia Police Department

  • A cost benefit study of their peer support program for alcoholic officers found that the program resulted in reduced sick leave, fewer injury days and suspensions.
  • The department more than recovered its costs for the program in 3 years.
    It estimated a savings of $50,094 for each subsequent year.

Example #3:
Palo Alto Police Department

  • This department found that their stress program cost was absorbed many times over with the prevention of one stress-related disability retirement.
  • Before the peer support program, there were 12 stress-related retirements.
    After the program began, there was only one (1) stress-related retirement during a period of 16 years.

Example #4:
San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department

  • With a peer support program, this department reduced its psychological stress retirements from 8 to 0 over a 6 year period.

As a result, it saved $1½ million dollars per officer, or a total savings of $12 million dollars in retirement funds alone.

   If you crunch the numbers, you will see that large and small departments cannot afford to let a good officer go. It’s more cost effective to create a peer support program.