A computerized “early intervention” system will help identify cops in urgent need of mental health counseling, under a new program launched Tuesday by the Chicago Police Department.
The program, called the Officer Support System (OSS) is designed to alert supervisors when officers under their command exhibit signs of stress or trauma, according to a statement released by Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot as part of her 90-day rollout of police reforms.
“Our officers experience a tremendous amount of trauma and stress on the job, and just over the past several years, we’ve lost far too many to suicide,” Lightfoot said.
“It’s critical every one of our officers have the tools at hand when they need them to help them manage the mental health challenges they face.”
The new system will be paired with another pilot program, called Officer Wellness Telehealth, aimed at expanding free 24-hour mental health services for officers.
The OSS system was developed in collaboration with the University of Chicago Crime Lab, which provided statistical models to facilitate early identification of officers in need of help.
“It is critical to the health and safety of all Chicagoans to ensure that we are proactive in providing police officers the supports and training they need, and to not wait until a tragedy occurs and wonder what might have been done to prevent it,” said Roseanna Ander, Executive Director of University of Chicago Crime Lab.
The first phase of the OSS program will be conducted in Chicago’s 5th District, but officials said it will be rolled out across the city next year, along with virtual mental health services such as a “self-guided app, a guided app, group virtual therapy and one-on-one therapy,” made available to all members of the Chicago Police Department.
Last year Chicago struggled with rising police suicides, USA Today reported.
Chicago Police Superintendent David O. Brown called the program a critical component of ensuring that officers’ mental health was “supported at every level.”
“The Officer Support System will provide our frontline supervisors with the tools and resources they need to not only identify officers in need of support, but to connect them with the appropriate support and services, as well,” he said in the statement.
Other cities have faced similar challenges. Last year, the New York Police Department declared a “mental health crisis.”
Blue H.E.L.P. reported a 2019 surge in police suicides, noting that more officers died by suicide than those that died on the line of duty. But it found a 30 percent drop in suicides so far this year, compared to the same period last year.
But experts concede existing data on officer suicides is insufficient. “Though many institutions track police officer deaths in the line of duty – from fatal shootings to heart attacks – there has been no national repository for tracking and analyzing officer suicides,” USA Today reported.
In mid-June, President Trump signed the Law Enforcement Suicide Data Collection Act, which mandates a new government data-collection program tracking law enforcement suicides at a local, state and federal level.
Another piece of legislation currently in the works is the Public Safety Officer Support Act of 2020, which is aimed at expanding benefits to officers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, and for other purposes.
In early July, TCR reported that police and mental health experts say mental health support is needed for officers amidst the public outcry over George Floyd’s death.
Laura Bowen is a TCR news reporting intern.