Wellness is the cornerstone of Stockton Police Chief Stanley McFadden’s policing philosophy. In a job field that regularly responds to and manages highly-traumatic situations, he says good policing starts with supporting the mental and emotional health of those doing the work.
“If my people aren’t well, they’re not going to be well on the street,” McFadden told Stocktonia. “They’re not going to be able to handle the pressure that we put on them.”
The former San Jose deputy chief made his way to Stockton last year, taking on the city’s top police job following the previous chief’s retirement. And it was witnessing the success of a program at his previous department that led McFadden to spearhead an expansion of Stockton’s officer trauma support system.
Last week, the Stockton Police Department introduced its new Organizational Wellness Unit to the public. It’s slogan: “We got you!”
An open house was also held for the department’s new Wellness Suite, where both its sworn and civilian staff alike can seek out support resources for any work-related or even personal issues they may need help with.
Stockton City Councilmember Michael Blower, who went to the event and previously served on the Stockton Police chaplaincy board, described the new initiative as uniquely proactive and praised its expanding of current resources.
“It’s important that we as a community help support the people that take care of us everyday,” Blower said. “And not just the officers, but the entire department.”
McFadden said this new wellness initiative came to fruition thanks to a collaborative effort, involving the department’s senior chaplain, Jesse Kenyon, who will also serve as the unit’s program manager.
“The trauma that (officers) go through and stress that they must endure, it can have a devastating effect if it’s not checked, if it’s not taken care of,” Kenyon told Stocktonia of why the unit is essential.
The average person may only experience a handful of traumatic events in a lifetime, Kenyon says. But officers can sometimes deal with that many in a day. He also pointed out that many current and former police officers die by suicide.
Research has shown that first responders such as firefighters and police officers are more likely to die from suicide than in the course of doing their jobs.
Kenyon says the department has had a wellness network for about eight years, which he described as the foundation for this resource expansion, and was primarily used to support officers in the immediate aftermath of critical incidents and other trauma.
That network included access to department psychologists and chaplains, Kenyon said. Some officers within the department have also been trained as peer support workers “to walk alongside” their fellow officers when, for example, they’ve been involved in a shooting or experienced the death of a family member. Department staff have also been able to access resources through the city’s Employee Assistance Program as Stockton employees, he added.
However, these services weren’t all located or overseen in a full-time, centralized capacity, Kenyon said.
The new Organizational Wellness Unit has three employees, with Kenyon being joined by a Stockton sergeant and officer, whose primary jobs are to serve in the unit and will regularly staff the department’s Wellness Suite.
Having staff that are dedicated solely to this unit allows trust to be built with those who need the services, McFadden said. “They need that consistency. They need to see those familiar faces that have been proven to truly care.”
The unit has also broadened the department’s outside support resources, which includes partnering with community-based nonprofits that provide healing activities such as sailing or working with horses, Kenyon said. Trauma care will also extend long past the initial incident, while new recruits are being taught early on what they may face on the job and the effects it could have on their lives outside of work, as well as what resources are available to them.
The suite also boasts a quiet room for officers to decompress or recharge, as well as a confidential room where department staff can receive counseling.
Both Kenyon and Chief McFadden agree that confidentiality is essential in offering these kinds of services to officers.
“They don’t want anybody to feel like that they can’t handle their jobs,” Kenyon said. “They want to make sure that if they’re sharing something that they’re feeling broken about or feeling weak about, that it doesn’t go anyplace.”
“They’re not going to want to be part of something if they think the chain of command is going to be alerted to everything that’s going on there,” McFadden also said. “So I’m very clear, unless it comes to the point where I need to send official resources to protect this employee from themselves or from hurting others, I don’t need to know about it.”
These new services are also not only available to sworn staff, such as officers and sergeants, as they might have once been.
Stockton Police’s non-sworn, civilian staff — also known in department vernacular as professional staff — experience trauma on the job too, McFadden and Kenyon said. For example, dispatchers are the first people someone in distress speaks with, animal control officers witness animal abuse and crime analysts have to process evidence.
“These kinds of civilian positions have a lot of junk they have to deal with,” Kenyon said, noting that this kind of support is something “they desperately need.”
McFadden would even like to further expand the unit to include members that are representative of the areas of the department, as well as possibly having a full time counselor. Kenyon says these resources would also benefit department veterans.
This is also the first time the department has begun reaching out to staff’s families to provide support and education, Kenyon said. McFadden says that his wife often speaks to loved ones of new recruits to help them understand what it’s going to be like to have law enforcement in the family, support she also helped provide in San Jose.
“When an officer goes through a critical incident so does their family,” Kenyon said. “They bring that trauma home. So we’re teaching families how to identify it, how to support their officer and, when you start getting impacted, how you can reach for services yourself. … Healthy families mean healthy officers.”
Kenyon says there are several doors that department staff can walk through to access the wellness unit’s services, both physically and metaphorically.
Employees have access to the Wellness Suite and Lighthouse, a smartphone app for first responders to access their agency’s health and wellness programs. The wellness unit staff, who wear uniforms that make them easily identifiable, will also spend part of their day walking around the department’s two buildings in Stockton’s downtown.
Or anyone who needs help can simply walk into his office, Kenyon said.
“You can’t save the world unless you take care of yourself,” Kenyon says of officers who may be hesitant to accept support. “You can’t save other people if your lifeboat is sinking.”
For many years, McFadden said that police departments have cultivated a culture that encouraged officers to maintain a tough, emotionless persona. But that’s the narrative they’re trying to change, he says.