Safeguard is a mental wellness program that seeks to provide psychological monitoring and support to officers involved in covert operations and high-stress positions. Development and implementation of the program in Canada is largely based on the FBI program of the same name. Key aspects of the program include psychological pre-screening, regular mental health checkups, undercover skills training, and debriefing assessments after assignments. The ultimate aims of the Safeguard program are to proactively protect mental wellness of officers, manage risk, reduce the stigma of seeking support, and promote awareness of mental health supports for officers (Krause, 2009; Marin, 2012).
Is the program based on research?
The Safeguard program appears to be loosely based on empirical research. The initiative was developed in response to unique stressors experienced by undercover agents and the resulting mental impact of such stressors (Pogrebin & Poole, 1993; Arter, 2005; Farkas, 1986; Girodo, Deck & Morrison, 2002; Kowalczyk & Sharps, 2017). Select core elements of Safeguard seem to be supported by existing literature, such as psychological screening (Simmers, Bowers & Ruiz, 2003) and pre-emptive skills training (Arnetz, Arble, Backman, Lynch & Lublin, 2013; Arnetz, Nevedal, Lumley, Backman & Lublin, 2009); however, it remains that most stress management interventions aimed at police have not yet been proven effective (Patterson, Chung & Swan, 2014). As it stands, while aspects of Safeguard show promise, the extent of the program’s empirical basis is limited.
Has the program been independently evaluated?
No independent evaluations of the Safeguard program could be located.
Was the program rigorously tested?
There is no evidence that this program has been rigorously tested.
Has the program evaluation been replicated?
No replications could be found.
Was the program tested in Canada?
While Ontario Provincial Police have implemented a Safeguard program of their own, to our knowledge, no Canadian evaluations have been performed.
At present, although aspects of Safeguard appear to be modelled on practices with some empirical value, there is not sufficient evidence to say that Safeguard as a whole is effective. To our knowledge, the Safeguard program has not yet been independently evaluated. Regarding Canadian initiatives, the OPP Independent Review Panel state that no evidence-based program reviews of OPP mental health services have been conducted; it is thus critical to set into motion a rigorous evaluation of Safeguard. Moreover, future work should focus not only on developing an evidence base and expanding the program to other units, but also on promoting awareness of such programs; in a recent survey, 67% of members were not aware of the Safeguard program’s existence (Ontario Provincial Police, 2019).
Assessor: Natalie Stearns, King's College London
Natalie Stearns holds a Bachelor of Science in Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour from McMaster University, as well as a Master of Science in Forensic Mental Health from King’s College London. Her research experiences range from childhood emotion regulation to facial emotion recognition in violent offenders with psychopathy. Her current interests lie in antisocial behaviour trajectories, violence prevention, empathy, emotion recognition, and most recently, evidence-based policing and police mental health initiatives.
Arnetz, B. B., Arble, E., Backman, L., Lynch, A., & Lublin, A. (2013). Assessment of a prevention program for work-related stress among urban police officers. International archives of occupational and environmental health, 86(1), 79-88.
Arnetz, B. B., Nevedal, D. C., Lumley, M. A., Backman, L., & Lublin, A. (2009). Trauma resilience training for police: Psychophysiological and performance effects. Journal of Police and criminal Psychology, 24(1), 1-9.
Arter, M. L. (2005). Undercover and under stress: The impact of undercover assignments on police officers (Doctoral dissertation, Indiana University of Pennsylvania).
Girodo, M., Deck, T., & Morrison, M. (2002). Dissociative-type identity disturbances in undercover agents: Socio-cognitive factors behind false-identity appearances and reenactments. Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal, 30(7), 631-643.
Kowalczyk, D., & Sharps, M. J. (2017). Consequences of undercover operations in law enforcement: A review of challenges and best practices. Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology, 32(3), 197-202.
Krause, M. (2008). Safeguarding undercover employees: A strategy for success. FBI L. Enforcement Bull., 77, 1.
Krause, M. (2009). History and evolution of the FBI's undercover safeguard program. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 61(1), 5.
Marin A. “In the line of duty”: investigation into how the Ontario Provincial Police and the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services have addressed operational stress injuries affecting police officers. Toronto, ON: Ombudsman Ontario; 2012. Available from: https://www.ombudsman. on.ca/Files/sitemedia/Documents/Investigations/SORT%20 Investigations/OPP-final-EN.pdf (accessed 2019 Jan 27)
Ontario Provincial Police (2019). Ontario Provincial Police Independent Review Panel: Final Report.
Patterson, G. T., Chung, I. W., & Swan, P. W. (2014). Stress management interventions for police officers and recruits: a meta-analysis. Journal of Experimental Criminology, 10(4), 487-513.
Pogrebin, M. R., & Poole, E. D. (1993). Vice isn't nice: A look at the effects of working undercover. Journal of criminal justice, 21(4), 383-394.
Simmers, K. D., Bowers, T. G., & Ruiz, J. M. (2003). Pre-employment psychological testing of police officers: The MMPI and the IPI as predictors of performance. International Journal of Police Science & Management, 5(4), 277-294.