Wellness Summit strengthens Fiji partnership

  • Published
  • By Wayne Amann
  • OSI Public Affairs

While their homeland cultures may differ, one of the common threads shared by law enforcement organizations worldwide is the reality of how stressful their line of work can be – and the need to address that in a pro-active way.

This concern was discussed during the Pacific Islands Chiefs of Police Executive Leaders Team meeting in Manly-Sydney, Australia, in February 2020.

One of the tangible outcomes of that discussion was the two-day Law Enforcement Wellness Summit, facilitated by the Office of Special Investigations 6th Field Investigations Region (FIR) in Nadi, Fiji, March 9 and 10.

The intent of the summit was to give Fiji Police leadership the tools to build law enforcement mental health resilience.

Presenting those tools was a four-member Office of Special Investigations team: Dr. Margaret Swank of the Headquarters Behavioral Sciences Directorate; Psychologist, Dr. Jennifer Steel, from Detachment 421, Luke Air Force Base, Ariz.; and Special Agents Richard Mink and Michael Showers of the Special Missions Branch, 6 FIR, Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii.

“In law enforcement there are parts about the job that we don’t expect. We don’t know when we sign up for it how it’s going to affect us,” Dr. Steel said in a Fiji Police Media interview. “So the goal is to bring into light the fact the job is very difficult, but that we are all human beings and we quite literally are challenged to deal with life and death situations.”  

Fiji law enforcement officials shared the reality that routine service delivery during the pandemic, and interactions with the general public when COVID-19 remained largely unknown, compounded the level of stress and anxiety in officers on the front-line.

“The wellbeing of the workforce and prolonged working hours poses a real threat to officer’s fatigue and overall concern for service delivery – that could impact confidence in police. Stress, burnout, exposure to traumatic experiences and post-traumatic stress can impact officers’ mental health,” said Fiji’s Commissioner of Police Brigadier General Sitiveni Qiliho. “I acknowledge the support of the United States Government and the Office of Special Investigations, 6th Field Investigations Region for their continued support of the Fiji Police Force.”

The partnership is mutually valued by OSI.

“We’re really excited about working with Fiji and growing that relationship. And I’m just passionate in general about advocating for wellness among law enforcement,” said Dr. Swank. “For so many years it’s been treated like it’s just a job, it doesn’t have an emotional impact. And we know that having to do the things that law enforcement has to do, having to intervene with crime, and sometimes be isolated from the community, can really impact their wellness.”

The U.S. Embassy Suva Chargé d’Affaires, Antone Greubel, while acknowledging the support of the Fiji Police Force, said the United States Government values the partnership between the two countries and the Wellness Summit marks the resumption of capacity building assistance following the COVID-19 lockdown.

“As [U.S.] Secretary [of State Antony] Blinken said during his visit, the thread that runs through all our engagement with Fiji is that we’re working together in a spirit of partnership and respect. We are tackling challenges and building opportunities together to deliver concrete results that affect individual lives,” Greubel said. “We know that the daily sacrifices of the Fiji Police can come at a cost. The selfless service you provide can have consequences in your personal lives, and hope that these [Wellness Summit] discussions will empower you to better care for yourselves and your families physically, emotionally, mentally and relationally.”

Dr. Steel summed up the importance of individual resilience.

“The goal is to have people understand that it’s very, very courageous to say, ‘Hey, I need to take a knee here, I’m going to tap out for a minute.’ And only then, when I’m healthy, can I be at my best,” she said.