INDIANAPOLIS – As they protect a City that’s seen increasing violence and deal with a shrinking force, there is no doubt Indianapolis Metropolitan police officers are facing serious levels of stress.
In recent weeks, two IMPD officers were disciplined for showing up to work with alcohol in their systems. Alcohol, one IMPD official explained, is the most popular method of coping with stress in the law enforcement world.
“The number one area of abuse is alcohol. It’s endemic to our culture,” said Captain Brian Nanavaty.
He’s trying to change that culture through a unique counseling program he created at IMPD about four years ago where cops assist cops who need help.
“There are officers who can’t get to sleep at night because they’re dealing with recalling what happened during their shift. Many officers are obsessive compulsive or they’ve experienced traumas that keep occurring over and over. They’ve been involved in police involved shootings that they can’t get out of their head. What happens is that keeps them from sleeping. So many times they’ll resort to alcohol as their comfort. It allows them to relax and then fall asleep,” he explained.
Many police departments offer an Employee Assistance Program which gives officers access to confidential counseling. However, officers have to make the decision to take part in it and if they do, the departments are usually never in the loop about their recovery.
Nanavaty’s program follows through.
“What we do at IMPD is we case manage that officer through that process and through their return to work,” he said.
More importantly, he reaches out and asks others to watch over their comrades.
“Officers don’t want to look weak. So they don’t want to step forward and ask for help.”
In fact, when he first started the program, he admits, hardly anyone came in on their own. Now, his phone rings off the hook throughout the day and night with calls from struggling officers.
While Nanavaty doesn’t have a medical degree and he and his staff do refer officers to professional help, he’s happy they are calling someone.
He’s even working with new recruits, preparing them mentally and emotionally before they hit the streets.
“If we can change the culture in the academy…hopefully they’ll overcome what many who preceded them have suffered,” said Nanavaty. “Silence doesn’t help anybody. Silent suffering isn’t good for anybody. Especially when… people look to us to help them. We’re no good to them if we’re not healthy.”