What does Peer support mean in law enforcement?
A few years ago there were flyers at the police department about this thing called “Peer Support.” I didn’t know exactly what Peer Support was at the time, but it sounded silly.
“There’s no crying in police work,” was all I could think of. It wasn’t much different from the movie A League of Their Own, where the manager said, ‘There’s no crying in baseball.’
One night I handled a triple fatal collision involving three pedestrians. The victim’s family was there and it was one of the most gruesome scenes I ever saw. It was certainly shocking to see, but I felt fine afterward.
A few days later an email was sent out inviting the people involved on the call to come and talk as a group for a debriefing.
An officer asked me if I was going. I gave him a skeptical look as I said, “I’m okay. I don’t need to go to that.” I wasn’t going to sit in a room with a bunch of people and talk about this.
I walked by the briefing room and looked through a window in the door. There were people sitting in chairs that were set up in a circle.
I knew it! It was going to be a Kumbaya session where everybody held hands and hugged each other. They were probably going to sing songs and light candles too.
That wasn’t for me. I’m a cop. I’m a finger pointer, not a thumb sucker.
About two years later I handled a drowning call that affected me afterward because I was a participant this time instead of being an observer . I described it as being in a funk. Later that night the watch commander caught up with me before I went home.
She asked me about the call and we talked about it for a long time in the hallway. She listened to my story and told me about a drowning call she handled years before. She had the same feelings at the time that I had now.
A weight was lifted off my shoulders after our talk. I left work feeling refreshed. I had known her for years and I considered her a friend so it made it easy to talk with her about what happened.
The next night I spoke to another officer, who was the best man in my wedding. We talked about my call and about some of his difficult calls too.
In the end it was just friends talking about something traumatic that occurred on the job. In this case, it let me get the emotional baggage off my chest and move on.
That was when I got it. I understood what Peer Support meant. That was the incident where I drank the Peer Support Kool Aid.
Since then I’ve spoken to numerous officers who are on the Peer Support team about what they do and what resources they provide to other officers. Listening isn’t their only function. They’re a group of people who want to help any way they can.
I learned Peer Support wasn’t about hugging and lighting candles. It was about listening.
Clarke Paris of The Pain Behind the Badge calls it a “Cop Stew.” His example is of a pot on the stove set to a low fire. Throughout our careers we put things into the pot. Eventually some of that stew should be removed from the pot. If not, sooner or later that cop stew will boil over.
I highly recommend his seminar if you get a chance to see him speak. You’ll walk out with a different perspective.
Two weeks ago I had dinner with a sergeant on Peer Support to discuss this article and some blog posts ideas I had. His message to people was this: “If you don’t talk to me, talk to someone.”
It’s as simple as that.
So, what is Peer Support in law enforcement? Here’s my simple example.
Peer Support is like changing your car’s oil every 5,000 miles. If you skip enough oil changes your car is going to give you problems. Perhaps one day that car is going to leave you stranded.
Have you changed your oil lately?