The Monroe County Probation Department provides a confidential, peer-support program for probation officers that promotes healthy coping skills and offers referrals to officers in the wake of critical incidents.
- Agency: Monroe County Office of Probation
- Location: Rochester, Monroe County, N.Y.
- Department size: Large (>35 officers)
- Program started December 2016
Monroe County Probation Department developed a Critical Incident Response Team in 2007 to assist probation officers who experienced or witnessed a critical incident. Critical incidents involving traumatic events can often affect the individual’s coping skills. The department recognized that individualized support was needed to improve employee wellness in the aftermath of a critical incident and due to stress associated with the job.
Building on the foundation of the Critical Incident Response Team, the Monroe County Probation Department created the Peer Support Program in 2016 to help meet the ongoing stress-related needs of probation officers and promote healthy coping skills.
The Peer Support Program consists of a voluntary team of specially trained probation officers, both line officers and supervisors, from the department. The team has ranged from five to 19 members since the program’s creation, and currently has 12 members. All members have completed in-person Group and Individual Crisis Intervention and Peer Support training through the Western New York Stress Reduction Program taught by an International Critical Incident Stress Foundation certified instructor. This training focuses on the SAFER-R Model of Crisis Intervention: Stabilization, Acknowledgment, Facilitation of Understanding, Encourage Effective Coping Skills, Recovery or Referral. Team members also attend critical incident, crisis intervention and stress management training when available.
One member of the team serves as the Peer Support Program coordinator and manages the program, in addition to his or her regular duties. Any probation officer can request assistance from the Peer Support Program coordinator or refer a colleague for help. The coordinator assigns the participant a suitable team member based on the specifics of the situation. An officer’s participation is not mandatory. If the officer accepts Peer Support Team services, the team member connects with the officer and discusses what are considered appropriate physical and emotional reactions to the incident, whether the officer’s reaction differed. The team member reviews strategies to improve the officer’s reaction to the situation and discusses unhealthy coping mechanisms that should be avoided (e.g., alcohol use). The team member also provides referrals to the Probation Chaplain and Employee Assistance Program, if needed. Team members follow up with program participants for additional support.
All Peer Support Team interactions are confidential. Team members sign an acknowledgment stating confidentiality is essential to the Peer Support process, and any discussions with a participant will not be disclosed. Exceptions are made if a participant discloses that they will harm themselves or another, or the disclosure of a crime.
While the Peer Support Team focuses on probation officers who need assistance, the program also is available for civilian staff within the department. In addition, the Peer Support Program has assisted other Monroe County employees after critical incidents occurred in other county departments.
Monroe County Probation administers the Peer Support Program within their existing resources.
Program Review or Evaluation
Monroe County Probation collects data from the Peer Support Program, including the number of referrals and a general description of the incident that led the individual to seek support (e.g., work-related or personal).
From 2016 through 2019, the Peer Support Program had 78 referrals. Typically, individuals seek assistance for work-related issues, such as an incident occurring with a probationer under their supervision (i.e., death or arrest), or after experiencing a traumatic incident in the field. From 2016 through 2019, 85 percent of referrals were due to work-related incidents or conditions.
Law enforcement officers, including probation officers, are susceptible to job-related stress, which can negatively affect an officer both at work and at home. Research shows that workplace programs that address and relieve job-related stress can save an agency money, increase staff performance, and improve public safety. Workplace programs, such as peer support programs, provide officers with a confidential support system consisting of individuals who understand their situation and assist them in taking steps to reduce those stressors. Extensive training is a crucial element of these types of programs to ensure peer supporters remain neutral, refer as needed, and report any serious mental health concerns (e.g., suicidal thoughts).
Critical Success Factors
- Support from administrators in Monroe County Probation was essential to program success. They ensured team members were properly trained and able to respond as needed, encouraged staff to use the program and take time off as needed, and promoted confidentiality.
- Staff must have assurance of confidentiality in the Peer Support Program. Without trust, the program would not be utilized.
- Participation of well-rounded team members with a range of experience and personalities allows for pairings to be individualized and meaningful. Participants found it especially helpful when their assigned team member went through a similar experience or had an appropriately matched personality.
- Monroe County Probation does not identify a specific training curriculum in their current operations manual. This allows the team flexibility to evolve with the field of crisis intervention as curricula change. The original operations manual for the Critical Incident Response Team training specified a particular training curriculum by a specific trainer, which limited the agency’s training capacity if fees were increased or classes were cancelled.
- A Peer Support Team with members who have different experiences, communication styles and personalities are more important than the number of members on a team.
- To make training more affordable, Monroe County Probation partnered with the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office. This agreement resulted in a large number of trainees and lowered the overall training costs.
- Due to COVID-19, Monroe County Probation has employed a hybrid work model since March 2020, where staff alternate working from home and the office. Depending on scheduling and participant need, team members make either socially distant, in-person, or virtual contact with participants.
- In February 2021, the Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) hosted a multi-day, 13-hour virtual training provided by an International Critical Incident Stress Foundation faculty member for 30 probation officers from 16 departments in New York State who were trained as Peer Support Team Specialists. Future quarterly virtual meetings will be held for all the New York Peer Support Team Specialists as a method of networking and offering support. These meetings will not discuss case-specific information and will be coordinated by DCJS.
- Additional resources:
- International Association of Chiefs of Police: Peer Support Guidelines
- Personal Impacts Survey for Criminal Justice Professionals
Last Updated: 03/2021