How it all started
P.E.A.P. Was started in September 1984 by Detective Ed Jensen and a Lieutenant named Jerry Keller. They felt it was critical to respond to the scene of a shooting, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to provide immediate emotional support to the involved officers.
Since 1984 the PEAP focus has expanded to include those stressors that are unique to law enforcement. Det. Jensen and Lt. Keller realized that both civilian and commissioned employees experienced stressors that affected their ability to work. Together they began to wonder just what it was about the law enforcement job and lifestyle that resulted in high rates of divorce, heart disease, alcoholism and suicide.
In law enforcement we are trained to handle everything, everything except our own emotions. In the past, employees who experienced critical incidents were expected to accept it as part of the job, return to work and function normally as if nothing ever happened. This "stuff it" method of handling emotions revolves around the theory that "if I can't see it then I won't feel it either" And this method works. For a little while.
Just imagine an emotional backpack slung casually over one shoulder. When you ignore an emotion you toss it in your pack. It seems to go away. Over the course of your career you continue to "stuff it" but your pack can only hold so much. Sometimes all it takes is a caller running their mouth to be that last straw. How much more devastating would it be to experience a traumatic event while your pack is already full? Pay now or pay later.
A need for somewhere to turn
Depending on who you talk to, about 80% of police marriages end in divorce. It's no wonder if you consider the communication skills that we learn. We ask them nicely, tell them and then invite 30 of our best buddies to come over and make bad guys do exactly what we want. One way or another we always win the conflict. This is how we conduct business and stay safe on the street but it just doesn't work in marriage.
Law enforcement employees have higher rates of heart disease and our alcoholism rate is twice the national average. One reason is that we learn mistrust as a coping skill. In the academy officers are taught that everything that comes out of a person's mouth is a lie, until proven otherwise. That works as an interview approach but not in our personal lives. It's no wonder we can't unload our backpacks when we don't trust enough to share with anyone.
Officers are 8 times more likely to kill themselves than to die by homicide. Every 22 hours an officer in this country chooses suicide as an escape from the pain. The packs on their backs becomes so heavy and painful that death seems easier than living. Something needs to be done. There is a tremendous need for somewhere to turn.
Who we are
We aren't counselors, therapists or nuclear physicists. We are peers with a variety of life experiences. People who have been there. We don't give advice because we don't live with the consequences, you do. We are simply there to lend an ear and offer supportive honest feedback. Most times it is enough to unload your backpack to someone willing to listen and keep it confidential. Together, the 5 PEAP members provide a wide range of backgrounds, experiences, personalities, and styles.
What we do
We are available 24 hours a day 7 days a week for crisis intervention. We respond to all officer- involved shootings, serious accidents and injuries, and give death notifications. After a critical incident we provide follow-up contact with those affected and one-on-one or group debriefings. In addition to that we have regular office hours when we meet with employees or talk on the phone. The PEAP staff teaches about 50 classes a year including Post-Shooting Trauma, Death and Grief Issues and Communication Skills.
Sometimes people want more than our short-term help. We give referrals to counselors, psychologists, chaplains and other professionals if that is needed. We don't keep records or lists of who wants a referral and it can be done anonymously on the phone, too.
Why does it work?
There's no great secret to why PEAP is successful. We don't hold hands and chant or spread magic fairy dust on those in pain. Simply telling your story to someone who is willing to listen without judging promotes healing. It unloads weight from the sometimes crippling weight of your backpack.
Talking is a bit like defragmenting a disk drive. It reorganizes the critical incidents of your life into manageable parcels and most importantly it makes room for the next one. In law enforcement there will always be another critical incident. If we can process it in a healthy manner then it won't be as devastating.