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CALEA Update Magazine | Issue 104

Recommendations to Facilitate Military Deployment and Re-Entry Experiences for Law Enforcement Personnel

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[Editorial Note: For several years public safety agencies have been dealing with the increase in the number of personnel having to meet military obligations. The following article offers some important recommendations on how law enforcement agencies specifically can facilitate an employee’s deployment and re-entry experience. This may be of particular significance with more combat veterans returning to the workforce.] 

For the first time in more than a generation, law enforcement agencies have recently had to deal with the deployment of their personnel to military active duty combat tours. These deployments, which began in the months following the September 11th attacks, have primarily involved personnel who are members of Reserve or National Guard units in support of military operations in Afghanistan or the Iraq War. The resulting challenge for law enforcement agencies has been to provide appropriate support to the deployed employee and his/her family members prior to and during the period of deployment, and to provide an effective reintegration to civilian law enforcement duties once the deployment has ended. The increasing proliferation of such deployments and a desire to identify and share best practices related to agencies’ responses to deployments led to the undertaking of this initiative.          

The Northern Virginia Criminal Justice Training Academy, with support from its member police chiefs and sheriffs, decided to conduct research regarding the needs of returning law enforcement combat veterans. As a means of facilitating this research, the Academy assembled a focus group sampling of 10 law enforcement/military veterans to complete a study of best practices that could be shared with the law enforcement community. These participants represented eight different Northern Virginia law enforcement agencies from various types of departments, including county and municipal police departments and sheriff’s offices. Their duty assignments and ranks varied from patrol officer and detective through sergeant and second lieutenant. Although there were a variety of locations deployed to, including Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo, Kuwait, and Egypt, virtually every participant also served in Iraq as well. Their varied law enforcement and military backgrounds and experiences provided significant value to the quality of the discussions. The interviewers were especially struck by the enthusiasm and willingness of every participant who contributed to this endeavor.     

The following questions were posed to the participants during the focus group discussion:

  1. Regarding pre-deployment practices, what is your agency doing or not doing, well or poorly, that it should start, stop, or continue to do in order to better assist military or combat veterans?
  2. While military law enforcement personnel are deployed, what is your agency doing or not doing, well or poorly, that it should start, stop, or continue to do in order to better assist military or combat veterans?
  3. Regarding the return/re-entry to law enforcement assignments, what is your agency doing or not doing, well or poorly, that it should start, stop, or continue to do in order to better assist military or combat veterans?
  4. With regard to the specific training needs of returning veteran law enforcement officers, what is your agency doing or not doing, well or poorly, that it should start, stop, or continue to do in order to better assist military or combat veterans?

The resulting discussion and information-sharing with these military veteran law enforcement officers was lively, candid, and extremely useful. All of this information, which is intended to guide agencies as they consider how best to assist their military and/or combat veterans prior to, during, and upon return from military deployments, has been comprehensively documented in a formal report  that has since been disseminated both locally and nationally. The report’s authors have also published an article in a national law enforcement magazine in order to make this same information available to law enforcement agencies across the country.

The following best practice recommendations were identified by the group of military veteran law enforcement officers:   

1. Recommendations for pre-deployment practices to better assist military or combat veterans:

While quite a few specific recommendations were offered by the focus group participants, one of the more memorable observations suggested by the group is that Military Reservists and National Guard members are a “special needs” population within their departments. For that very reason, the participants felt that agencies should begin their efforts to assist military veterans at the pre-deployment stage.

This period of time (prior to deployment) can be both confusing and very stressful for the employee. Some participants related their concerns about having to determine the status of their apartment leases during their absence and deciding what to do with their pets, while others were uncertain as to the type of medical benefits that their spouses and children would be eligible for. For those reasons, agencies should embrace a central theme of flexibility when weighing employees’ requests for leave to address family and pre-deployment matters.

Agencies should further develop and publish policies and procedures related to pay, benefits, leave, promotions, equipment, and work status upon return in the event of deployments, and the agencies should assist employees as they navigate these processes. While some agencies’ policies related to pay and benefits may be more generous than required by law, all agency heads should become familiar with the minimum requirements of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA).   

Another point, that when first mentioned appeared to be somewhat trivial but later became more apparent, had to do with the manner in which agencies handled the disposition of issued police equipment. Some participants expressed feeling as if they were being treated in the same manner as officers whose police powers were suspended, in that they were required to turn in every piece of issued equipment. As one participant exclaimed, “They even took my pens!” 

While the participants acknowledged that items such as vehicles, radios, and mobile data computers should be turned in and reused during their absence, they also felt that they should be permitted to retain their badges, identification cards, and issued uniforms until their return. If issued weapons are required to be turned in, they should not be reissued, but rather stored for safekeeping and returned to the veteran after deployment. One veteran lamented that he had considered stopping by the station house while he was home on leave, but decided not to since “they had deactivated my access card and taken my ID and badge from me.”  

Specific recommendations identified to better assist veterans during the pre-deployment phase included:

q  Assure that your agency is educated and well informed regarding employee and employer rights and responsibilities

  • Good communication and clarification on key issues including salary matches, accrued leave, and time credited towards retirement, health insurance coverage, etc.
  • The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) contains important information regarding employee and employer rights and responsibilities. A useful link containing frequently asked questions pertaining to USERRA can be found at: http://www.esgr.org/userrafaq.asp 

q  Articulate clear expectations to the veteran with central themes of flexibility and single points of contact

  • Identify and designate a single point-of-contact (POC), and an alternate, from the law enforcement agency and from the jurisdiction’s Office of Human Resources (OHR).
  • Agency POC should also be POC for deployed employee’s family during deployment regarding medical, financial, and morale issues
  • If available, agency POC should be an individual who has previous deployment experience in order to establish rapport
  • Each POC should have an alternate in the event the primary POC is sick, transfers, retires, etc.
  • Consider having agency POC communicate with a military POC
  • Flexibility during pre-deployment is critical:
    • Leave is a requirement to satisfy family and personal logistics
    • Leave is not necessarily granted by the military for these purposes
    • Consider “admin” time or scheduling flexibility to satisfy this 

q  Develop a comprehensive checklist for out-processing

  • Should be established in coordination with the jurisdiction’s Office of Human Resources POC
  • Alleviates burden on employee for navigating bureaucratic issues:
    • Finance, leave, health/medical coverage
    • Power of attorney and will
    • Advisement of need for counseling (EAP) upon return
    • Coordination with courts regarding pending cases
    • Status of employee should be correctly defined – “deployed” (e.g., one veteran’s status was incorrectly listed as disabled) 

q  Develop a policy on equipment (differentiating between equipment rightfully returned for re-issue, equipment stored for the veteran, and equipment retained by the veteran

  • Specify equipment that should be held for safekeeping and later re-issued to veteran (firearms), equipment to be re-issued to others (car, radio, laptop) and equipment that employee should be allowed to retain (ID, badge, uniforms, duty gear, access to departmental facilities and e-mail) 

q  Schedule an exit meeting with the Chief of Police or Sheriff

  • To clarify status upon return
    • Will his/her position still be there when they return?
    • What is their eligibility for promotions/specialized assignments while they are gone? 

2. Recommendations for practices while military law enforcement personnel are deployed:

Many of the participants indicated that if more were done during the pre-deployment phase, then maintaining effective communications (with the employees and their family members) and preparing them for a reintegration briefing upon their return would be the keys to successfully assisting the veterans during deployment. The members of the discussion group also shared numerous experiences, both good and bad, about the quality of communications with them and their family members during their deployments.     

Specific recommendations from the participants during the deployment phase included the following: 

q  Assure quality communication with the veteran and his/her family

  • Notification to all department members by the agency regarding veteran’s deployment via e-mail and/or department newsletters
  • Include address and contact information (if employee wants) and encouragement to send letters and care packages
  • Birthday/holiday/significant dates should have reminders sent and a letter/package from Office of Chief/Sheriff
  • Employee associations and other support groups should be advised of deployment as well (this encourages “care” packages)
  • Contact should be maintained regularly between agency POC and deployed employee’s family (establish formal schedule)
  • Deployed employee should also update department regarding military status if major changes are expected 

q  Maintain a single point of contact during deployment

  • Office of Human Resources POC should be readily available in the event of pay/benefits complications for both deployed employee and his/her family
  • Agency POC should begin to compile a file (electronic or paper) regarding departmental issues to advise/update employee upon return
  • Consider forwarding significant notifications to employee while deployed
    • Differentiate between significant issues and items that can wait until return
    • Is anyone in the department seriously ill? Any deaths?
    • Keep employee “plugged in”
  • Maintain copies of new agency policies, significant legal changes, etc. for reintegration briefing 

3. Recommendations during the return/re-entry to law enforcement assignments:

The personal experiences upon their re-entry into their law enforcement duties were different for each of the focus group participants. The one thing that every participant agreed with, however, is that their deployment experiences changed them. As one participant put it, “After twelve, fifteen, or twenty-two months of deployment, they may be alright, but they are definitely not the same person.”   Most participants also stated that when asked during military out-processing about any residual psychological trauma related to combat experiences, many veterans will deny any problems in order not to slow that process down. For this reason, the participants strongly recommended that information regarding Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) be provided to the returning veterans.     

While each person may need varying amounts of time or accommodations to ease back into their assignments, all felt that a formal reintegration process during the post-deployment phase, as described below, would be most helpful:

q  Schedule a return meeting with the Chief of Police or Sheriff

  • Communication with department reestablished ASAP upon return
  • Chief or agency representative should be there for employee’s return (“off the bus” greeting)
  • Formal acknowledgement of veteran’s absence and return
  • Dialogue (formal debriefing) with command staff/agency leader/agency POC
    • Agency significant changes/updates should be covered 

q  Restore veteran’s employment status

  • Agency POC can address many administrative needs proactively prior to veteran’s return (agency e-mail/password updates, access to buildings, equipment, pay/employment status discrepancies)
  • Try to relieve officer of these burdens
  • What position does veteran want to return to?
  • Would an alternate position (hours more conducive to family reorientation), even if only temporary, be more appropriate and assist in the transition?
  • Is the veteran on parity with his peers in the department, or has he/she lost any seniority status?
  • Can the veteran capitalize on any missed opportunities (e.g., promotional processes)?
  • Acknowledgement of military training’s value towards LE career
    • Consider giving credit for military training towards promotion where applicable 

q  Schedule appropriate transitional steps back to duty

  • Assistance for return to duty
    • Is any “admin” or “flex” time available to assist in transition?
    • Does the veteran need more time to decompress?
    • Flexibility is the key
  • Referral of available EAP resources – should already be established during pre-deployment checklist
    • Should be an agency resource or agency provided
    • Should be a qualified and credible professional (someone with understanding of combat and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) issues preferred)
    • If agency doesn’t have resources, seek outside assistance (some veterans indicated that it should not be a Veterans Administration-affiliated source) 

q  Monitor veteran’s reintegration progress

  • Upon return to duty, veteran may need to get “re-recruited” into police work
  • Should they ride along with an officer for a short time to “ease back in?”
    • If so, veteran should ride along with an experienced officer or supervisor; not an officer junior to him/her
    • If possible, ride along with agency POC/mentor
  • Don’t treat the returning veteran like a rookie
  • First line supervisors should be aware of EAP resources and “warning signs” for PTSD
  • Once again, quality two-way communications is the key to success 

During the focus group discussion, one participant suggested that some returning veterans may have to be “re-recruited back to police work” after a deployment. He illustrated this point further by explaining that “…since after spending 15 months in a Humvee trying to avoid IEDs and sniper fire, it might be difficult to get too excited about someone’s mailbox getting vandalized.”   

4. Recommended specific training needs of returning veteran law enforcement officers:

The majority of the participants agreed that a standard training protocol would be beneficial both for validating their confidence and proficiency prior to returning to “the road” and to reduce any stigma potentially attached to any mandated training topic or regimen. All agreed that this re-entry training should be conducted one-on-one or in small group settings. As one veteran put it, “Don’t just throw us in with a big group.”  With regard to training needs, the participants recommended:

q  Expedite re-training on critical skills, policies, and procedures

  • To address the “role conflict” between combat and policing models, a standard training protocol and checklist should be developed
  • The protocol should include a use of force review, weapons re-familiarization and qualification (including less lethal weapons), and judgmental shoot/don’t shoot refresher through MILO, FATS, or similar systems if available
    • All weapons at the same time (pistol, shotgun, rifle) to keep officer from having to go back to the range multiple times for different weapons
    • All other duty weapons requiring recertification (batons, OC spray, Taser, etc.)
  • Additional training should include emergency vehicle operations refresher, legal and search-and-seizure updates, and any state mandated in-service training 

All of the veterans acknowledged that the transition back into a successful work and family life may be challenging, but would be eased if agencies did more to prepare the returning veteran for their reintegration. They reemphasized the importance of maintaining quality communications with the veteran, prior to and during deployments and, especially, upon their return to duty.   

The recommended practices listed in this article are intended to guide agencies as they consider how best to assist their military and/or combat veterans prior to, during, and upon return from military deployments. Many of these recommendations can easily be implemented just by formalizing policies and procedures and adopting the strategies as identified by veterans and agency heads alike. A good way for law enforcement leaders to show appreciation for the service and sacrifice of our combat veterans is to take their concerns to heart and implement the changes necessary to ease the deployment experiences of those who will serve after them.   

William C. O’Toole is the executive director of the Northern Virginia Criminal Justice Training Academy in Ashburn, Virginia, and Assistant Chief of Police (Retired), Montgomery County, Maryland. The Northern Virginia Criminal Justice Training Academy has been CALEA Public Safety Training Academy accredited since March 2004, and has twice received Flagship Agency status.

Author
William C. O’Toole, Executive Director
Northern Virginia Criminal Justice Training Academy
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