Surviving Inside and Out: A Strategy for Helping Officers Cope

Denver Police Chief Robert White is seeking to take action on officers’ abuse of alcohol after a string of incidents that have cast the Department in a negative light.  We applaud Chief White for this step.

Denver police chief orders review of alcohol abuse reports in ranks
By Noelle Phillips
The Denver Post, 6/12/14,

We also encourage him and other law enforcement executives to take a longer-term, comprehensive look at the ways in which personnel try to manage their reactions to the experience of sustained hypervigilance in the workplace.

We at Public Safety Leadership have developed a new approach that we call Surviving Inside and Out©.  SIO integrates education, organizational diagnostics and collective and individual action to help officers manage in a healthy way the effects of the law enforcement jobs on those who practice it.

Please take a look.

Surviving Inside and Out©

An Effective Program in Wellness Education

and Action for Law Enforcement Professionals


Introduction: Why SIO?

Every LE professional experiences the physical, emotional and psychological effects of stress. Officers at all ranks must operate in a physical state known as hypervigilance in order to be safe and effective in their work.[i] Hypervigilance is a physiological response to risk in the work environment.

The law enforcement profession generally does not help personnel manage this reality successfully. The tradition of self-reliance combined with a scarcity of time and other resources have made it difficult for thoughtful leaders and managers to develop long-term, comprehensive answers to the effect of hypervigilance.

Many jobs are risky. Logging is the most lethal job in the US.[ii] Lumberjacks face the constant risk of death and injury from falling timber and from operating dangerous machinery in rough terrain. Yet those risks are well known to all. It is a world in which the worker can calculate reasonably well the probability of risk in any given task.

Corrections and police professionals work in a world of possibility. Danger could come from anywhere in the environment.   Like police work, the corrections profession is distinctive because practitioners must work in an environment of constant unknown risk. Since any situation could produce danger, one must be vigilant constantly. They must deal with constant unknown risk. They do so because they work with the most unpredictable force in nature: human behavior.

The hypervigilance response on the job is normal. Indeed everyone’s safety depends on it. Hypervigilance is what the medical community calls an autonomic response, meaning roughly that it is automatic. We do not control it. The ways in which personnel manage these effects off the job are within an individual’s control. But only of he or she knows what he or she is experiencing and has tools to manage the experience.

The LE job changes people. Research and experience teach us that the work can make people feel anger, cynicism and a sense of isolation. Certainly everyone experiences these emotions at various points in life. But as in other law enforcement fields, the stress that creates the conditions is endemic and constant in the corrections job. The fundamental problem, which Surviving Inside and Out© is custom designed to address, is managing this reality and maintaining a professional career and an overall happy, productive life.

Traditionally most organizations do very little to help their personnel manage these effects. It is the proverbial 800-pound gorilla in the room that no one acknowledges. Former corrections executive Carl ToersBijns writes,

“… stress is a silent killer because correctional officers are typically reluctant to share their feelings of uncertainty, helplessness, or inadequacy with anyone for fear of appearing weak, incompetent, or too indecisive to do the job.”[iii]

The same findings have emerged in the ongoing studies of Connecticut corrections officers conducted by research by the UMass-Lowell Center of the Promotion of Health in the New England Workplace.

Dr. John Violanti of the University of Buffalo found in a study of effects on stress on police[iv] that long-term unmanaged exposure to the unique occupational stress of law enforcement work puts personnel at significantly increased risk for a host of diseases and disorders.

SIO proposes to face squarely the reality of the effects of police work on humans.  Historically we’ve ignored it. It’s absent from our recruit and in-service training regimens.  Research is slim.  Dr. Kevin Gilmartin’s 2000 book is still the best current training text.  You can’t find human maintenance in the Policies and Procedures.  Bosses have no expressed responsibility for the maintenance of the human beings.  (Read your department’s P&P on vehicles and you’ll see spelled out lots of supervisory responsibility for cars). As often as not accepting help is experienced as vaguely punitive.  People get “sent” to the “stress unit.”  The onus is on the individual. The signals come from everywhere, from the locker room to the TV screen.  Instead of everyone getting regularly scheduled preventive tune-ups of the emotional, psychological and physical systems, we wait for the crisis.  And when all is said and done the crisis is seen as the individual’s failure and responsibility.

Gilmartin and others have demonstrated plainly that physiological hypervigilance affects EVERYONE who puts on a badge.   Law enforcement professionals must maintain a state of hypervigilance because if the ever-present unknown risks that define policing.  Many professions are more lethal than corrections and policing.  But the risks are known.  In law enforcement the risks can and do come from anywhere.  No one escapes the effects.  The brain automatically shifts to a hypervigilant state when the human pins the badge on his or her chest and goes to work.  That’s because the brain has been trained by evolution over many millennia to get you home after the shift.

Officers if given the right setting will talk about the emotional damage they incur from a sense of helplessness in the face of human suffering.  The experience of hypervgilinace and engagement with human suffering wears down the physical, emotional and spiritual/psychological systems of our personnel.  The effects accumulate.  It strikes hardest at the veteran in his or her 30′s with 10+ years on.  Remember, it’s with this young veterans cohort that we see the greatest concentration of suicides, in a profession whose suicide rate is very significantly above the national average. Cops commit suicide almost at what everyone acknowledges is the hideously high rate of suicide among military service personnel. Some studies have found that the rate among corrections professionals greatly exceeds the rate among military personnel.

Gilmartin found that while suicide is on the upswing, fewer officers are getting killed in the line of duty now than in the 1950′s.  Over time, police leaders saw a crisis and trained personnel how to make safe car stops.  We changed the norm.  No officers would approach a car by slapping his two hands on the roof and presenting his stomach to the driver.  Similarly, no officer would leave the station house without a portable radio, which their forebears resisted mightily in the 1970′s.

Your Human “Fleet”

In recent years law enforcement departments have thoroughly modernized their preventive maintenance and repair programs for the motorized fleet.  We can apply the same principles to maintain and care properly for the fleet of humans who drive the cars and do this uniquely complex work.

We know that the miles on the law enforcement odometer represent much more punishment to the vehicle than the same number of miles on a civilian vehicle.  (Only the cheap or the desperate buy used police vehicles at auction.)  The same is true for the humans.

The new program in “human fleet maintenance” could be the most far-reaching strategic intervention that a leader can make in comprehensive organization health .  By effectively addressing what Gilmartin calls the “emotional survival” of our personnel we might improve health; support emotional and spiritual well-being;  and boost productivity.  We can reduce labor mistrust of management; reduce sick leave abuses; and address emerging problems before they spiral out of control.  We can improve espirit de corps and that elusive concept, morale.

When a vehicle is damaged in the course of a shift, we assess the problem and decide when to get it fixed.  The onus in not on the vehicle.  No one judges the car as individually deficient because when the perp’s car smashed into it, the front end sustained damage.

Only the most backward — or wealthiest — would expect our vehicles to go 10,000 miles with no preventive maintenance and to forego repairs when trauma strikes.  We would never say.  ”The job is tough.  Our vehicles are just gonna have to absorb the damage and keep going.”  We would not wait until our vehicles break down under extreme conditions of cold, heat or operation at high speed.

Absent institutional acknowledgement and assistance, personnel see it as their individual responsibility to “man up,” “suck it up,” etc. The inability to manage is seen as a personal failing, as Warden ToersBijns suggests. On their own individuals cope with the effects of hypervigilance across a range of behavior.

At one extreme are the small number of especially resilient people who understand what they are experiencing and take the appropriate actions to be successful law enforcement professionals and happy mothers, fathers, sons, husbands, wives, etc. They have fulfilling lives outside the job. On the opposite extreme are the individuals who cope through addiction to alcohol and drugs, other self-destructive behavior and suicide.

In the vast middle people suffer on their own. Sleep disorders, cardio-pulmonary problems, habitual use of nicotine, alcohol, caffeine, steroids, dietary sugar and fats. Here we see and hear the burnout. We see heavy sick time use, absenteeism and a lack of motivation at work; we see and hear the effects of cynicism. We see conflicts emerge in the individual’s relationships. We hear, “us versus them.”   As a career progresses the “us” gets smaller and the “them” gets larger. “Them” at first might be the inmates. Soon, though, the “them” are the administration and the supervisors. After a few years it’s the public, too. Finally, “them” can come to include the loved ones who are bewildered by the person who comes home, or fails to come home, after his or her shift. “Us” becomes a tiny unit that might include others on the shift or just the corrections officer, an individual feeling isolated and vulnerable.

Staff’s unaddressed negative responses to hypervigilance take over much of administrators’ daily agendas, often starting with phone calls on the drive to work.


The SIO Program

Surviving Inside and Out© is a practical and affordable solution for your organization. We are three former criminal justice professionals who bring our personal experiences, training and professional educations to bear to provide your personnel a comprehensive set of survival services.


Our Mission Statement

We have created Surviving Inside and Out to serve the men and women who dedicate their lives to serving as corrections professionals. Our purpose is to provide, through our experience, education and commitment, practical and effective solutions to the problems of stress management within the corrections environment and that confront every corrections professional every day. The outcome we seek is a corps of corrections professionals who survive –and thrive — inside and out: within the institutions and outside in their personal lives; in their hearts and minds and in the attitudes they present to the wider world every day.

We look forward to working with senior executives to customize the Program for the distinctive needs and circumstances of your organization.


The Services

vOrganizational and cultural diagnostics

We diagnose organizational practices and structures, looking for ways to reduce workplace stress. We will present you with a plan for eliminating and mitigating these effects. When diagnosed and addressed effectively the points of organizational conflict or disconnection can serve as leverage points for improved productivity and morale. The model we use derives from a model of cultural diagnostics employed by William J. Bratton when he served his first term as commissioner of the NYPD.

Where is there conflict in the organization and what can senior management do to correct it? What steps can management take to mitigate and eliminate the points of conflict that evolve in every organization over time?

The diagnosis will

  • Develop strategies for reducing and preventing sources of organizational conflict
  • Create resources for emotional, physical and psychological needs of the staff
  • Identify and develop appropriate venues and programs for intervention
  • Revise policy and procedures on employee wellness and assistance



vClassroom education

The SIO Workshop© is 1½-day training program that provides participants the facts about the stress inherent in corrections profession. It empowers personnel to think about their own strategies for surviving and thriving; for developing a practical, individualized program for living healthy and happy professional and personal lives.

We will do follow-up focus groups to assess progress.

We would offer the class once every week over the course of 50 weeks to reach every employee in the organization.

The Supervisory Leadership Program© is a two-day course that provides sergeants and lieutenants the opportunity to learn from their own experiences to develop into the best leaders they can be. They will learn new competencies and skills in leadership methods decision-making, creating ownership and accountability, communications, group dynamics and other areas.


vExpanding access to resources

We serve as intermediaries to a strong network, that we organized for this purpose, of culturally competent, credible professionals. We guarantee the most assistance for your personnel, guided by the values of respect for individuals and airtight confidentiality.


Service Network

Substance Abuse

Substance Abuse Counseling

Detox Placement

Residential Treatment Placement

In-patient/Out-patient Hospital Treatment


Family support

Family counseling


Individual Counseling

Identity counseling

Critical incident debriefing

Separate module for suicide prevention in accordance with the CMRs



Legal counseling



Financial counseling


Physical Health

Personal training





vThe Facilitators

Patrick Bradley in his 32-plus years in corrections and private security has served asthe Massachusetts Undersecretary of Public Safety and Security; Superintendent of the Norfolk and Suffolk County Houses of Correction; as Special Sheriff in Suffolk and Director of Security for Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Massachusetts.

Pat is in recovery and has been doing outreach work to alcoholics for over 20 years.

Pat’s law enforcement managerial and leadership experience includes fiscal management; human resources management; collective bargaining; legislative affairs; interagency coordination policy development; disorder management; strategic public safety design and implementation. He is a successful manager of structural and cultural change in all these areas.

Jim Jordan has taught about stress management and emotional survival in law enforcement for four years, through a course he created, “The Sergeants’ Leadership Program,” with Liz O’Connor. He is a management consultant and educator in law enforcement.

Jim served as the founder and first Director of the Boston Police Department’s Office of Strategic Planning and Resource Development, where he facilitated the creation of a number of strategic partnerships with a wide variety of stakeholder groups.

He is in recovery has been involved in outreach work to alcoholics since 2007.

Jim has taught policing courses at Northeastern University and UMass-Lowell in addition to leadership courses he developed. Jim is certified as trainer in Facilitative Leadership. He holds a master’s degree in public administration from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.


Liz O’Connor is a trainer, facilitator, and curriculum designer specializing in working with police/criminal justice organizations and in adult learning theory. Her experience in these areas includes designing and teaching online and face-to-face courses at the State University of New York at New Paltz, UMass/Boston and Northeastern University.

At the Boston Police Department Liz worked with senior police commanders to design, fund, and implement new initiatives supporting innovative practices and community-based policing.

Liz founded Strategy Matters in 2000, Inc. (SMI), a consulting organization that works with public and private agencies in public safety/criminal justice, workforce development, education, and human/social services.

Liz holds an MA in Philosophy from University of Washington and a B.A. in Philosophy and Politics from Mount Holyoke College.


vOutcomes and Measurements

We measure what we do on a regular basis. E want to identify course corrects and incorporate lessons as we go. Products will include the following.

  • Written evaluations by participants on the two classes.
  • Quarterly reports on the effectiveness of the Workshop, using pre- and post-program questionnaires to assess how participants are using the tools.
  • Confidential report on organizational diagnostics.






[i] “The narrowing of the social support systems and the over-identification with work that is currently affecting all workers leaves the law enforcement officer seeing the world only as through the eyes of a law enforcement officer. The perceptual set of hypervigilance and consequently perceived hyper-vulnerability has the officer narrowing his/her social circles. And also narrowing his/her comfort zone of where she/he is able to interact without feelings of vulnerability and reactiveness. This “pseudo-paranoia” leads to the adolescent-like importance of peer pressure in the law enforcement culture. The distrust of any one other than those within the law enforcement culture. Absolute trust is reserved for only those within the immediate peer group. This also generates management difficulties of directing policies to a group of workers who have a hair trigger of autonomic reactiveness which leads to second guessing and potentially misinterpreting any management directive, an almost adolescent-like rebelliousness towards authority.

If one chooses to follow the natural bio-behavioral consequences of a hypervigilant perceptual set away from the police role and into the family situation other predictions can be generated. The officer, who has not been oriented through stress training or has not been victimized yet by learning better, can suffer significant family disruption by the phenomena currently being discussed. The hypervigilant perceptual role and its reticular activating system consequences cause the officer to spend his/her workday in the sympathetic autonomic nervous system branch. The feeling of energy, wit, and camaraderie will be correlated with the work place. As the officer arrives home, the hypervigilant perceptual set is held in abeyance in the safety of his/her own home. However, the pendulum of homeostasis swings into a parasympathetic state of tiredness, numbness, and an almost detached exhaustion when interacting with the less threatening and more mundane tasks of after work home-life. The hypervigilance and consequent “street-high” of the work place leads to the “off-duty depression” of the parasympathetic swing in an attempt to homeostatically revitalize the body.” From“Hypervigilance: A Learned Perceptual Set and its Consequences on Police Stress,”

By Kevin M. Gilmartin, Ph.D.

Published in 
Psychological Services to Law Enforcement
U.S. Dept. of Justice Federal Bureau of Investigation
Edited by Reese and Goldstein
Washington, D.C. 1986

[ii] Los Angeles Time, August 7, 2013

[iii] “Stress, the Correctional Officer’s Silent Killer,” Carl ToersBijns, former deputy warden, ASPC Eyman, Florence, AZ, December 17, 2012., University of Cincinnati.

[iv] “Police Officer Stress Creates Significant Health Risks Compared to General Population, Study Finds
Landmark study of police officers in Buffalo, N.Y., reveals increased incidence of chronic disease, finds suicides higher among those still working.” University of Buffalo, July 9, 2012. Study by Dr. John Violanti, published in the International Journal of Emergency Mental Health.










About stephenomeara

My name is Jim Jordan. I have had the privilege of working with the Boston Police Department and hundreds more departments over my nearly 30-year career in police administration and city government. I am now teaching and consulting independently at I have learned the best of what I know from the thousands of smart, dedicated and ethical police personnel and scholars who have guided me along the way. My address is named for the great Reform commissioner of the Boston Police at the turn of the 20th century. Commissioner O'Meara died just a short while before the Strike in 1919. He was replaced by a vicious puppet (of Gov. Coolidge) named Edwin U. Curtis. Had O'Meara lived events may have turned out quite differently.
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