Numbers reveal SDPD wellness program impact: Program formed in response to misconduct cases

Downtown - Numbers obtained by 10News reveal that the San Diego Police Department's wellness program, which was formed in response to a series of misconduct cases, appears to be making an impact.

In 2011, the department was hit with a string of incidents, including accusations ranging from drunken driving and domestic violence to rape.       

One of the programs formed in response to the incidents was a three-member wellness unit, which includes a captain, a sergeant and a SWAT officer.

"We are the problem solvers for everyone, so when it comes our own issues, we believe we should be solving the problems for ourselves," said Mark Zdunich, a SWAT team member and a member of the unit.

The challenge becomes getting officers to ask for help.

The wellness program – which is confidential – includes psychological and chaplain services, along with training programs that tackle tough issues like suicide.

A key component is the peer support program, in which officers can dial up 50 department members with specific profiles.

"In their profile, they specifically talk about failed marriages, sick children, having to take care of elderly parents," said Capt. Sarah Creighton, who heads the unit. "We have a variety of experiences that others in this department can avail themselves without having to reach out to a formal resource."

So far, the peer support and other parts of the program appear to be making a difference.

A year a half after the program was started, 352 department members and family members have made contacted the wellness unit. More than a hundred contacts were for stress issues, 85 contacts were for marital issues, 38 for alcohol abuse and 20 for post-traumatic stress disorder.

Unit members say the goal is to head off potential problems.

"We want to catch that, before they (officers) break, before an incident occurs that we can't fix," said Sgt. Tod Bassett, who is also a member of the wellness unit.

Since the program began, those incidents have become rare.

While unit members say some senior officers remain skeptical about the program's confidentiality, Bassett said they are seeing results.

"There are people that I would never think would make a call to say, 'I need help' … They are calling," he said.

10News was told officers are also not shying away from reporting concerns with their fellow officers. Members of the wellness unit say a majority of officers contacted because of those tips have been receptive to getting help.

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