Left of Bang – How the Marine Corps’ Combat Hunter Program Can Save Your Life is a book that focuses on being “Left of Bang,” which means that you are alert, ready, and know how to respond appropriately to a potentially dangerous situation (proactive). “Right of Bang,” means that the event has already taken place and you are now in a reactive mode. Patrick Van Horne and Jason A. Riley go onto say that “no police officer should have to go on patrol without knowing how to identify a criminal before he commits his crime. No person should have to wait until they see a gun to know that there is a threat present.”
What if we took the same approach when it comes to an officer’s wellness? In my opinion, we should never allow an officer on patrol if they do not know how to identify the signs of a personal mental health issue and/or a mental health issue in a co-worker. No officer should have to wait until they have a mental health issue / crisis before they are given resources to mitigate the impact of stressful profession. Yet, the majority of police departments throughout the nation allow patrol officers on the street with little or no training concerning their wellness.
Currently, the majority of what we do in the area of officer wellness is reactive, e.g., peer support, counseling, fitness for duty evaluations, and critical incident debriefings. Starting in the academy, what if we provided training on peer resilience, the importance of maintaining a holistic (mind, body, and spirit) approach to wellness? What if we evaluated officers (wellness check) on a yearly basis to see if they had or were at risk for developing mental health issues? What if the wellness check gave officers the opportunity to ask for help in a confidential manner? If everyone had to participate in a yearly wellness check, it would take away a great deal of the stigma attached to asking for help.
At a recent wellness conference, I brought up the idea of having yearly wellness checks for officers and one person jokingly said, “they would be afraid of what they might find.” I replied, wouldn’t you rather find out before the officer has a serious mental health issue and/or does something horrific to himself/herself or to a citizen. Do the math, $200.00 for wellness check, $200,000 for a lawsuit. Finally, is it feasible that a spouse of an officer who commits suicide sues the department for not providing any regular training on wellness, i.e., Deliberate Indifference.
Van Horne goes onto say that giving Marines the skills that the Combat Hunter Course provides might bring Marines back alive from deployment. I believe that providing holistic wellness training on a regular basis “might save some officer’s lives.
PROACTIVE vs. REACTIVE, you make the choice!