The Chicago Police Department’s Peer and Supervisory Wellness Support Strategies

The Office of Inspector General (OIG) conducted an inquiry into two Chicago Police Department (CPD) strategies to support members’ mental health and wellbeing, here termed “officer wellness support strategies.” The two officer wellness support strategies evaluated here are (1) the Peer Support Program (PSP) and (2) CPD’s reliance on frontline supervisors to monitor their officers’ mental health and refer them to services as needed.

Most of CPD’s existing officer wellness programs are run through its Professional Counseling Division (PCD). PCD’s services include the Employee Assistance Program, Traumatic Incident Stress Management (TISM) Program, Alcohol-use and Substance-use Services Program, and PSP. Additionally, the Department charges supervisors with identifying members who may be struggling with their mental health and referring them to professional services as needed, whether within or outside the programs offered through PCD.

The objectives of this inquiry were to determine: (1) whether PSP is designed and implemented in accordance with best practices as defined by mental health experts and the policing profession; and (2) whether CPD adequately prepares its supervisors to identify members in need of mental health assistance. OIG opted to review just two of CPD’s officer wellness support strategies because the full universe of officer wellness strategies is too broad to review comprehensively in the space of a single report. Other CPD officer wellness strategies and PCD programs may be topics of future OIG inquiry.

At the conclusion of this inquiry, OIG reached two findings:

  1. Several operational limitations prevent PSP from better meeting officer wellness needs. Specifically, there are deficiencies in recruitment and staffing, training, documentation and record-keeping, internal communications, and cultural competency.
  2. CPD does not adequately prepare its supervisors to identify members in need of wellness services, and does not ensure that supervisors remain up to date on supervisory responsibilities relating to officer wellness.
    a. Some supervisors expressed the opinion that they were not fully prepared for their wellness support roles.
    b. Some supervisors lacked knowledge of key aspects of their wellness support responsibilities.
    c. CPD has provided supervisors little in-service officer wellness training, and strategies for new directive rollouts have been insufficient to keep supervisors informed of directive changes.

In light of these findings, OIG made 13 recommendations to CPD. The first set of recommendations addresses gaps between PSP structure and practices and best practices for peer support programs in law enforcement contexts, including suggestions for more intentional recruitment planning; more regular trainings and updated training materials; improved documentation and recordkeeping practices; increased mechanisms for feedback between PSP volunteers and program administrators; and increased attention to cultural competency within peer support services. The second set of recommendations suggests improvements to CPD’s in-service training of supervisors and efforts to keep supervisors informed of changes to directives that impact their roles and responsibilities as they relate to the wellness of CPD members under their supervision.