Peers as Law Enforcement Support (PALS)
The PALS Program is a volunteer peer support initiative that seeks to train select police officers to be able to assist other officers in times of professional or personal crisis. This program involves a 16-hour training component in which PALS officers learn about several mental health topics and skills, including modules about stress, depression, substance use, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, suicide, tactical wellness, relationships and work-life balance, as well as active listening skills. The last module includes scenario-based training which provides the opportunity for trainees to practice their skills in all of the modules. The goal of PALS training is to: 1) provide a resource for peers during times of crisis; 2) foster mental and physical well-being among police officers; 3) identify and offer support to those in need; and 4) serve as a liaison between peers who need further help and appropriate professional resources (Van Hasselt et al., 2019).
Is the program based on research?
The program was developed in response to the increased risk of mental and physical health problems for police officers and the difficulties they face accessing professional services, such as the perceived stigma and elements of a police culture that hinder willingness to reach out for help (Steinkopf, Hakala, & Van Hasselt, 2015; Gerber & Ward, 2011). Additionally, research shows that peer support can be a protective factor for mental and physical wellbeing in first-responders (see Klimley, Van Hasselt, & Stripling, 2018).
Has the program been independently evaluated?
We could not find any independent evaluations of this program. However, the pilot study was only published a few months prior to this review so it is possible that these evaluations are ongoing.
Was the program rigorously tested?
The pilot study examined participants’ perception of the quality of the course content and instructor effectiveness on a four-point scale ranging from strongly disagree (1) to strongly agree (4). The average quality of course content score was 3.89 and the average rating of instructor effectiveness score was 3.87. There is no peer-reviewed data available on the actual impact of the peers who received PALS training with regard to first responder wellness.
Has the program evaluation been replicated?
We could find no other published, peer-reviewed studies.
Was the program tested in Canada?
To our knowledge, the PALS program only has been assessed by the pilot study in the United States.
No independent evaluations of this program could be located. Although subjective reports from trainees in the pilot study show promise, research has not assessed whether this program “works” in practice. Further research is needed on the potential impact of this training on skill development for peer supporters and whether these skills translate to benefits for those it is intended to support.
Assessor: Brianna Boyle, University of New Brunswick
Brianna Boyle is completing her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology at the University of New Brunswick. She completed her Bachelor of Arts with Honours in Psychology with Subsidiary in Sociology and a Special Concentration in Forensic Psychology at St. Francis Xavier University. She conducts research with the Centre for Criminal Justice Studies in Saint John, New Brunswick. Her research interests include personality psychopathology, mechanisms of desistance, and most recently, evidence-based practices in policing.
Reviewer: Dr. Nick Carleton, University of Regina
Dr. Carleton is the Director of the Canadian Institute for Public Safety Research and Treatment (CIPSRT). His research interests include: biopsychosocial measurement, assessment, and treatments of trauma, anxiety, and somatic disorders, focusing on transdiagnostics, fundamental cognitions (i.e., lower-order factors such as intolerance of uncertainty), and shared emergent properties (i.e., higher-order factors such as extraversion).
Van Hasselt, V. B., Klimley, K. E., Rodriguez, S., Themis-Fernandez, M., Henderson, S. N., & Schneider, B. A. (2019). Peers as Law Enforcement Support (PALS): An early prevention program. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 48, 1–5. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.avb.2019.05.004