AG directive promotes emotional, mental well-being of law enforcement officers

NEWARK, NJ — On Aug. 6, Attorney Gen. Gurbir S. Grewal took steps to protect the physical and emotional well-being of New Jersey law enforcement officers by ensuring they are provided with the tools they need to cope with the unique stressors of their jobs.

Addressing a rise in reported police suicides nationwide, Grewal issued a law enforcement directive — known as the “Officer Resiliency Directive” — implementing the New Jersey Resiliency Program for Law Enforcement, a first-in-the-nation statewide program to train officers in resiliency and to become better equipped to handle the daily stress of police work that, when left unchecked, may lead to physical ailments, depression and burnout.

In so doing, New Jersey will become the first state in the country to require that all state, county and municipal law enforcement agencies designate a “resiliency program officer” to be specifically trained in — and ultimately train their departments in — resiliency.

As part of the directive, Grewal announced the creation of a “chief resiliency officer,” who will be responsible for ensuring implementation of the statewide program; Robert Czepiel, chief of the Prosecutors Supervision and Training Bureau in the Division of Criminal Justice, will be the state’s first-ever chief resiliency officer, who will be responsible for overseeing the statewide program.

“We cannot fully comprehend the emotional and mental stress that our law enforcement officers suffer on a daily basis,” Grewal said. “We owe it to them to not only combat the stigma associated with seeking help, but also to give them the tools they need to deal with the stress and trauma they endure. It is our hope that this first-in-the-nation program will serve as a first line of communication allowing officers to unburden job stresses and provide them with the support they deserve. We can no longer allow them to suffer in silence.”

Job stress also puts law enforcement officers at a higher risk for health- and social-related issues, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, substance misuse, family and relationship stress, and self-harm.

A recent white paper commissioned by the Ruderman Family Foundation, a philanthropic organization, found that police officers are more likely to die by suicide than in the line of duty. According to Blue H.E.L.P., a nonprofit organization that tracks and monitors law enforcement suicides, at least 167 officers died by suicide last year, more than the total number of line-of-duty deaths. In New Jersey, according to this organization, 37 law enforcement officers reportedly have died by suicide since 2016. These statistics are believed to be conservative because law enforcement suicides have been historically underreported.

The NJRP-LE is designed to change a culture in which officers are often reluctant to seek help for work-related stress. The program fosters an environment that encourages officers to communicate with each other and with their families. Officers will be provided with techniques and services to help them meet day-to-day challenges. The program emphasizes officers’ positive strengths, rather than their weaknesses. Based upon the belief that people are not born resilient but rather learn to be resilient through life experiences, the NJRP-LE promotes and encourages a “growth mindset,” as opposed to a restrictive “fixed mindset.”