How Early Intervention Systems Can Help Law Enforcement Officers Struggling With Trauma

How Early Intervention Systems Can Help Law Enforcement Officers Struggling With Trauma

How Early Intervention Systems Can Help Law Enforcement Officers Struggling With Trauma 


In addition to detecting and deterring misconduct, early intervention systems (EIS) give agencies tools to support law enforcement officers who may be struggling with work-related trauma.  

Because trauma affects the human brain in so many different ways and traumatic incident triggers can be so insidious, it can be difficult to predict the long-term impacts of trauma on individual officers. The impacts of trauma may be apparent immediately or it may take years of long-term traumatic stress exposure for an individual’s behavior to be affected. The types of trauma the officer was exposed to, the frequency, the officer’s mental state, and many other factors all play a part in determining the outcome. 

Tools like early intervention represent the dual responsibility law enforcement agencies must shoulder: 

  • To the public: Better prepared officers, who are comfortable reaching out for help and receiving it, are less likely to experience significant behavioral changes that could negatively impact interactions with the public. 
  • To personnel: A system designed to mitigate—as much as it can—the unique stressors of law enforcement reduces the psychological burdens the industry must place on ground-level employees. 

A Brief Look at the Effects of Work-related Trauma in Law Enforcement 


Work-related trauma is unfortunately common aspect for first responders. 

Daily stress, violent situations, and even internal pressures can take a toll, with disastrous consequences if left unaddressed: suicide, deterioration of personal relationships, addiction, poor health, and more.  

Moreover, law enforcement work often comes with both direct and indirect exposures to trauma: 

  • Direct trauma: Direct exposure to trauma is any first-hand involvement with the critical incident, such as a physical altercation with a suspect or an officer-involved shooting. 
  • Indirect trauma: Indirect exposure to trauma is a secondhand interaction with the critical incident, such as listening to witness testimony or reviewing evidence. 

In addition, officers may be subjected to acute trauma or chronic trauma. Acute trauma exposures are the result of a single critical incident, such as a line of duty death, whereas chronic trauma exposures are the result of prolonged trauma, such as constant fear for one’s life or smaller exposures that build up over time. 

When it comes to trauma, an early intervention system will focus mainly on the accumulation of acute traumas, but this is up to the organization and the tracking tools they use. 

Tips for Tracking Trauma with an Early Intervention System 


While every early intervention system will depend on an individual agency’s needs and wants, most organizations can benefit from the following tips. 


Be on the lookout for critical incidents 

It seems like obvious advice in an article focused on trauma, but a system that offers no place for noting critical incidents fails to help officers from the start. Your system should provide a transparent, concise platform for recording traumatic exposures and looking for patterns. 


Offer follow-up services after critical incidents 

In some situations, it is apparent that a specific critical incident should be added to an officer’s file. In others, more subtle traumas or their effects may accumulate. 

In either instance, an early intervention system flagging trauma should result in some sort of support for the officer. In other words, what does your organization do for officers once the recommendation has been made? 

Key pieces for supporting mental wellness and maintaining the mental health of the agency include: 

  • Optional or mandatory counseling depending on the category and exposure 
  • Peer support groups 
  • Mandatory PTO or other work-life balance initiatives 
  • Providing mental health and critical incident-related training 


Know the results AND the outcomes of work-related trauma 

In some instances, noting an officer has hit “thresholds” of trauma can prevent adverse incidents from taking place and save careers. 

The reverse can also be true. Certain types of concerning behavior can indicate that an officer has experienced an influx of workplace trauma. 

Systems should be configured to look for both, with high-level categories that might include: 

  • Use of force incidents in a given time frame 
  • Public complaints 
  • Internal conduct complaints 


Embrace peer support 

Nobody understands cops better than other cops. 

Agencies can use this sense of fraternity to push programs that allow traumatized officers and others with direct experience to talk about their problems, which is one of the best ways to work through traumatic incidents. 


Take work-related trauma seriously as part of your organizational culture 

Adding early trauma flagging in your early intervention system is a good start, but how do you continue from there? If your organization doesn’t approach critical incidents with due respect from the top, it’s illogical to expect those in the rank and file to do the same. 

Let your people know trauma is something you are committed to helping them with and offer multiple ways to raise issues as they arise. Addressing mental health is crucial to your officers’ long-term health and their ability to serve the community. 


To learn more about how an early intervention system can benefit your agency, please request a demo today. 

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