Peer Support and Outreach System -- Training

POST # 9041-0079
Post Credits: 4

September 27, 2017 9am - 1pm
Le Sueur Community Center
821 East Ferry St.
Le Sueur, MN 56058
Click here to register for the September Training in Le Sueur

November 9, 2017, 8:30-12:30
NJPA Training Facility
Staples, MN

Click here to register for the November Staples Training

The MN Chiefs of Police Association is implementing a Peer Support and Outreach Initiative that includes four hours of POST approved training. The training will focus on the background and history of Peer Support for the MN Chiefs, define Peer Support, review why it is important and discuss the President’s 21st Century Policing Report including Pillar Six, Officer Wellness and Safety.  Participants will learn how to be proactive in creating resiliency in the areas of physical, mental and spiritual wellness as well as how Peer Support can support and prepare law enforcement leaders for times of need.  Participants will receive an overview of expectations in choosing and serving in a Peer Support capacity.

A Trusted Perspective: A Peer Support and Outreach System for Chiefs

By Michael S. Goldstein, Police Chief, Plymouth PD; Andy Skoogman, MCPA Executive Director; Joe Sheeran,  MCPA Communications Director; and Bob Jacobson, MCPA Professional Development Director

This article originally appeared in the January 2017 edition of The Police Chief, a publication of IACP

Being in the middle of a TV-style gun battle as a law enforcement officer is rare—and even rarer when you are a chief. Nonetheless, Chief Tim Fournier of New Hope, Minnesota, found himself in the thick of one when a gunman opened fire in a crowded city hall following a swearing-in ceremony, injuring two police officers. In the days that followed, Chief Fournier was there for his troops. Surrounding departments were there operationally to take calls and fill in for officers who needed time off or who were placed on post-shooting mandated leave. However, there was no formalized system to guide Chief Fournier through this incident on a personal level: no checklist was in place to see if he needed anything; no peer to talk to; or even someone to drive him around so he could help manage the actual incident, while also focusing on his agency’s day-to-day operations.

Chief Fournier recalls,

For me, experiencing this type of event in real-time (along with the officers) triggered a strong combat-related hyper-vigilant mind-set that took months to subside. Day-to-day operations took a back seat to my officers’ well-being and preparations for whatever new crisis may occur.[1]

Even before this incident took place, the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association (MCPA) had been working on a peer support system. But this case and other critical incidents in Minnesota that followed were the catalysts to get the initiative moving forward with greater alacrity.

The MCPA established a subcommittee including member chiefs, staff, and the association’s chaplain who possessed previous experience in developing a spiritual health care system for members and their departments. The goal was to craft a comprehensive peer support and outreach system that aligned with Pillar Six from the President’s 21st Century Policing Task Force report, but with one distinct caveat: this system was specific to chief law enforcement officers.[2] While many departments have established wellness programs for their personnel, this effort was to provide defined services to chiefs by pre-selected and trained peer chiefs, as that specific type of outreach was nonexistent.

The subcommittee first developed its mission to provide training, support, and response capabilities to law enforcement leadership in the state of Minnesota in preparation for and during times of need. The MCPA Peer Support and Outreach System created a sustainable and long-term structure for peer support, crafting proactive approaches for attaining a high level of physical, mental, and spiritual health care for the state’s law enforcement leadership. Simply put, the chiefs would not be alone.

In this vein, the subcommittee crafted a carefully vetted curriculum inclusive of physical, mental, and spiritual health care components to aid chiefs in their time of need; to help build resiliency; and to ensure that the system had the affected chiefs’ best interests in mind. With the curriculum defined, a distribution and implementation plan was created, and sub-committee members are in the process of training participating chiefs within each of the MCPA’s state regions.

The training block is four hours long, and the curriculum is specific to what peer support is and what it is not. Clear delineations were made to distinguish the differences between peer support and counseling or therapy—participants understand they can do more harm than good if they overstep their training and abilities. Peer support members are there to care for and guide a fellow chief, but not to override their work or to provide services outside of their professional capacity. Peer support members have referral access through the MCPA to additional professional services if needed (e.g., mental health professionals, clergy).

Once trained, the next step for a chief is to establish their peer network. It is suggested for each chief to select two to three peer chiefs that they have a constructive and trusting working relationship with and who are in relatively close proximity to their jurisdiction. This proactive network or “buddy system” will then be available to respond in the event of a crisis or if any of the participating members should seek assistance. Within the group, permission is granted for those to self-deploy to aid their fellow chiefs. Once deployed, the peer support members are to focus their energy on the chief’s needs and, unless requested to do so, are not to directly engage in operational issues—the peer chiefs are not called in to usurp a chief’s command staff.

Another important aspect is for chiefs to explain this program’s purpose to both their direct reports and to their superiors to establish expectations, to develop a clear understanding of roles and responsibilities, and to eliminate any surprises.

While this program is in its infancy, it has been well-received and appreciated by the membership. Thus far, chiefs are selecting their peer networks within the regions where the training has occurred and are calling upon one another for support.

Conscientious chiefs typically focus their energy on the welfare of their personnel, yet they neglect their own well-being. As Chief Tim Fournier and others have learned, that neglect can be debilitating especially when your leadership is needed the most:

 It certainly wasn’t hard to wear myself out; and I did. But I believed in placing everyone else’s needs above my own. With most of my command staff affected by the incident, having an outside trusted perspective on matters would have made me even more effective in the post-incident recovery phase.[3]

As the Final Report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing noted “Officers who are mentally or physically incapacitated cannot serve their communities adequately and can be a danger to the people they serve, to their fellows officers, and to themselves.”[4] If this is true for officers, it is also true for chiefs. As such, the Peer Support and Outreach System is a viable solution to help chiefs navigate their way through a crisis or to help manage other ongoing concerns where a trusted peer is present and focused on the chief’s needs, so that prudent and effective outcomes result.


[1] Tim Fournier (chief, New Hope, MN PD) email interview November 28, 2016

[2] President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, Final Report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing (Washington, D.C.: Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, 2015), 61–68, (accessed January 5, 2015).

[3] Fournier, email interview November 28, 2016

[4] President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, Final Report, 63.

Reprinted from The Police Chief, vol LXXXIV, No 1, Pages 12-13, 2017. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, Inc, 44 Canal Center Plaza, Suite 200, Alexandria, VA. Further reproduction without express permission from the IACP is strictly prohibited.