Breaking down barriers
Green Bay Police Department works toward holistic health
By Kris Leonhardt
GREEN BAY – The Green Bay Police Department is working toward the holistic health of their officers while breaking down barriers in dealing with mental health.
An American Medical Association report published in 2020 stated that of 434 police officers studied, “12% had a lifetime mental health diagnosis and 26% reported current symptoms of mental illness. Of these officers, 17% had sought mental health care services in the past 12 months, but officers reported interest in help if a few key concerns were met, including confidentiality assurance” – a concern the Green Bay department is working to address.
“We have had a peer support team for a very long time; but, with the way that things are evolving, it’s just time for us to do a little bit better. So we’ve had a change in leadership over the past couple of years. And the new chief that we have is very supportive of our wellness initiatives and things kind of really took off when he came here. He opened up the availability for us to really start taking a look at things and start taking a look at how we’re taking care of ourselves, so we can better take care of the community and just be more resilient as a whole,” said Lt. Erin Bloch, who is a peer support team coordinator along with Sergeant Kyle Schroeder.
“So we did a revamp of our peer support team, which now responds to a lot more things than they used to approximately five years ago.”
The department has also launched a wellness app in partnership with “Cordico.”
The name Cordico is a combination of the words cordis and cortico; cordis meaning “of the heart” and cortico in reference to the areas of the brain dealing with human thought, memory and personality and perception and judgment.
“And that app basically covers all different eight dimensions of wellness. Because what we’ve learned and what we know is that if you have a dip in one dimension of wellness, it can cause dips in other dimensions of wellness. So, if you’re not physically well it can cause you to be more stressed out and potentially have more health risk. If you don’t have a purpose or a meaning in your life, then that can cause a different emotional dimension of wellness,” Bloch explained.
“So, we really want to make sure that we’re hitting all eight pieces of that and that’s kind of what this Cordico app helps with.”
In addition to the app, the department has instituted one hour of on-duty wellness time each week.
“That one hour can be used for either physical fitness or for meditation, whichever is going to be more beneficial for the person that particular week. They are subject to recall. Obviously, we are a service-driven agency; so, if an emergency would happen, we need to have that person be able to help out, so they do need to be subject to recall. So, it’s in a specific area that’s very close to the PD and the recall time is 10 minutes.”
The department is also currently working on implementing an annual mental health wellness visit.
They will partner with The Wellness Co-op, a Wisconsin non-profit organization, dedicated to assisting military, first responders and their families.
“They provide counseling and therapists who are culturally competent, and they were vetted by us. So, we actually had an officer that had a very good personal relationship or friendship with the owner of that establishment and had used her for his own counseling services and recommended her to the department, and that’s how we made that connection there. And they’ve been a huge asset,” Bloch recalled.
Bloch explained that the program is meant to build an existing relationship between the staff member and the counselor.
“When something bad happens or stress just gets to be too much or it starts to overflow, they now have that connection with someone and it’s more likely that they’re going to reach out for that help because they’ve already built that relationship there,” she added.
“But we recognize that really, it can’t just be about mental health. It really has to encompass all these other pieces. So, we came up with a wellness program or wellness plan that was spearheaded by the chief; it was his idea and it took many people to come to the table and kind of put all of the different pieces together and we’re slowly implementing those things one by one.”
From the beginning
Bloch said that the department also works to stay ahead of potential emotional conflict and make incoming officers aware that it is okay to open themselves up to deal with it.
“Another thing that was implemented with that wellness program was: we obviously recognize that we really need to start breaking down the barrier from the beginning. So, when we have the new recruits come in and they do our in-house academy, we’re in there as a peer support team, teaching them about wellness and about resiliency and about healthy coping skills and what to be looking for. And, giving them an understanding that it may not be one major incident that makes things difficult to cope with or maybe bothers you a little bit, it could be but it doesn’t have to be that; it could be an accumulation of all sorts of different events over time,” Bloch stated.
“[We want] them to know that we’re here, that there are people here that understand it, and if it’s beyond our scope, that we have great resources to be able to help them work through things.
“In addition to that, obviously that education in the beginning is good, but we need the ongoing education. So, we have a one-hour minimum per year that we give of wellness training for our in-services for all officers at the department.
“Another thing that we have started to do is to go beyond employees at the PD and start reaching out to families because we recognize that things that happen here definitely affect families at home. That it can be very stressful for a husband, a wife, a mom or dad, a son or daughter at home.
“And if we are really truly looking to get ahead of things and see problems before they really start.
“The Cordico app was made available for them as well. One of the really neat features on there is a ‘get help now button.’ All they have to do is pop up on their phone, press that button and it will ring on to every single member of our peer support team so you get an immediate connection should a crisis occur or an incident arise that somebody needs help right away. And, family members have access to that too.”
Lt. Bloch said that there is hope that the wellness programs will help with recruitment, in a time when officers are hard to find.
In 2022, the Wisconsin Department of Justice said that the number of law enforcement officers in the state was at its lowest level since they started tracking it in 2008.
“Right now, it’s very tough, everybody knows that there’s difficulty in recruitment for police agencies across the nation. It’s not unique to the Green Bay Police Department; but, we sure feel that as well, trying to find competent, qualified candidates to come in and fill those vacancies we have,” Bloch said.
“So we’re really focusing on retaining the great people we have here. This is one way of doing that.
“And in addition to that, when the morale is built here, and it goes up and it’s better, and we’re more productive and people are saying great things about the police department because we’re taking care of ourselves, we’re better to be able to provide to the city and to have those good connections. We’re hoping that’s going to help with the recruitment efforts as well. Green Bay PD really cares about their people here; come work for us, they’re going to take care of you.”