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Mental Health & Substance Use Screening

History and Accomplishments

1996:  POPPA was established through a unique collaborative effort between the NYPD, City Council, and the private sector following the suicide of 28 NYPD officers within the 3-year period 1993-1995.  POPPA was designed an alternative and a complement to Department services as many officers reported reluctance to discuss personal or psychological issues within the Department due to the stigma and fear of the potential career impact.  In the 25 years since its creation, POPPA has been instrumental in changing the culture of police officers seeking and accepting help, and has removed some of the barriers to that crucial help.

POPPA’s first Peer Support Officer training program in 1996 started with 50 active-duty NYPD officers who wanted to help their colleagues.  POPPA implemented a 24/7 Helpline, which any police officer could call in order to speak with a specially-trained NYC police peer about any issue, whether personal or job-related.

9/11:  Approximately 5 years after POPPA was started, 9/11 jolted the world, the City of New York, and its first responders.  In the immediate aftermath, POPPA mobilized to provide in-person support and conducted debriefings for more than 5,000 officers who were either assigned to the World Trade Center site or who just wanted to talk to a police peer about what they had seen or were experiencing following the collapse.  The goal was to let officers know that POPPA was there to help them, and to provide a confidential shoulder for these officers to lean on, and an opportunity to safely vent.  POPPA witnessed first-hand the degree of trauma that police officers were carrying and its impact.  This information was used to revise protocols to mitigate the effects of trauma, thereby reducing the chances that officers would develop post-traumatic stress disorder, a major contributor to suicide within the law enforcement community.

POPPA also responded to the needs of police officers in the aftermath of the 2017 terrorist attach on the West Side Highway that left 8 dead.

Trauma Response Team (TRT) Program:  Through collaboration with the NYPD, POPPA is notified of any critical incidents, such as officer-involved shootings, line-of-duty deaths, police suicides, or horrific crime scenes.  Using techniques learned from the International Critical Incident Stress Management Foundation and our protocols, POPPA developed a unique set of skills to address both the officers’ immediate and short-term response to traumatic incidents.  Specially-trained POPPA Peer Support Officers (PSOs) who volunteer to work on the TRT respond in real-time to support the officers involved and to offer voluntary follow-up debriefings.  The TRT is deployed approximately 80 times annually.

In 2006  POPPA developed its Retiree Support Program, recognizing the value of retired officers in being able to understand and assist their retired peers.  The unique needs of retired NYPD officers were largely unmet as these officers had few specialized resources to deal with the impact and experiences of their careers in law enforcement.  The Retiree Support Program operates in several states in addition to New York.  POPPA also responds to calls from police officers from any state throughout the country.

POPPA has also been called to respond to police departments beyond NYC.  POPPA went to New Orleans to help police cope with the devastation from Hurricane Katrina in in 2005, to Boston to help police there cope following the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013 and at the 1-year anniversary in 2014, to assist Baltimore Police in the aftermath of the 2015 riots, and to Texas following Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

A major focus for POPPA is helping officers to strengthen and maintain resiliency.  In 2019, POPPA’s Resiliency Support Program undertook a major outreach initiative, providing information and psychoeducation to approximately 20,000 NYPD officers at the Brooklyn and Bronx target ranges over a 6-month period.  Officers were provided with information on managing stress, identifying, and responding to warning signs of suicide in their police peers, and strategies for self-care.  The Resiliency Support Program led to the development of POPPA’s Suicide Awareness for Emergency Responders (S.A.F.E.R.) program.   POPPA offers this program free of charge to police officers and their families and has been called to provide this vital training to police departments beyond the NYC area.

In 2020, POPPA increased its on-line presence in response to the COVID-19 crisis and health guidelines by offering on-line COVID-19 support groups.  These groups were conducted by POPPA Peer Support Officers (PSOs) with clinical guidance and were open only to NYPD officers.  POPPA also offered weekly educational groups open to police only on resiliency, stress management, and self-care open.  Throughout the COVID crisis POPPA maintained its 24/7 Helplines and continued to respond to the needs of officers safely, whether by zoom or car-to-car, and continued to provide referrals to clinicians who could provide services with revised treatment guidelines.  POPPA continues to offer a weekly on-line educational group.

POPPA is always expanding its outreach efforts and consistently redesigns, expands, and refines its services to meet the needs of the officers it serves.  Through the auspices of the NYPD, POPPA presents information regarding its services and provides psychoeducation to police recruits at the Police Academy in Queens, at borough orientations throughout NYC, and following critical incidents, including line-of-duty deaths and police suicides.  POPPA also maintains a presence at all NYPD line-of-duty funerals to pay respects, and to provide information and support to fellow officers.

Today, POPPA has more than 300 Peer Support Officers.  It also maintains a network of approximately 120 clinicians who are skilled at working with police officers and receive our client referrals.  At any given time, approximately 25 police officers in crisis are receiving support from POPPA’s clinician referral network.

POPPA has built trust in the officers it serves, replacing their isolation with an effective support network.  It serves as a model for the development of peer support programs in other police agencies throughout the country.  POPPA has participated in law-enforcement-centered conferences, including those sponsored by NYPD and IACP (International Association of Chiefs of Police).  POPPA continues to help change the way that police officers think about reaching out for help by redefining a call for support as a sign of strength, not weakness.

Our goal is to make sure that NYPD officers know that they are not alone and that we are here 24/7 and care about every officer’s well-being.   We want officers to remain healthy and strong throughout their careers, to be proud of the work that they do, and to enjoy their years of retirement.