The Case for Financial Fitness for Law Enforcement OfficersFinancial stability is critical to a persons’ overall well-being By Roger Ramkissoon, Chief Administrative Officer, Cobourg Police ServiceYou hear them all the time:
“I really need to get this paid-out before the holidays”
“I have become financially dependent on being on an OMERS waiver”
“I need the overtime”
“Can we split the repayment into smaller payments”
These are just some of the phrases I have heard repeatedly over my tenure in the law enforcement sector during last two years, ones which beg several questions: “Are law enforcement officers taking sufficient responsibility for their own financial fitness”? “Are employers being pro-active”? “What more can both parties do”? and more importantly, “How is financial fitness and or lack thereof, impacting an officers’ overall well-being and mental health”?
A recent article published by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) lists financial fitness as one of the essential factors for officers to stay mentally healthy and maintain above average stability in other aspects of their life. Financial fitness is not necessarily about how much someone earns, nor is earnings a measure of financial success. Rather, it focuses on personal financial planning or how one manages his/her finances, creates steady income, and establishes stability that leads to contentment and fulfilment with their overall lifestyle.So, how and why is this important? First, there’s no secret that Ontario police services are struggling to find interested and quality candidates to pursue a career in law enforcement. Given that candidates and subsequent successful applicants may come from diverse academic backgrounds, it is important to recognize that a gap may exist in formal financial planning education. Even though the onus is on an employee, employers ought to take some responsibility in closing that gap. For example, graduates of a Police Foundations Diploma (a common route of entry offered through Ontario Colleges) will likely not be exposed to a full course in financial planning. There is an uncertainty as to whether benchmarks exists to determine how financial well-being is incorporated into other “Fitness and Lifestyle Management” courses offered in the programme. Further, as the Canadian workforce is increasingly made up of individuals holding international qualifications (some of which are purely technical or subject matter specific), it is unknown whether these academic achievements teach graduates about specific financial planning techniques. It is certain that international qualifications will likely not educate participants about those nuances that are unique to the Canadian workspace (e.g., specific tax rules, pension benefits, retirement planning, RRSP’s and so on).Secondly, police services have seen a dramatic rise in the number of mental health and wellness absences in the last 5 to 7 years. While some of this absenteeism is attributable to the benefits from associated legislation, it is not always clear as to the genesis of some of these long-term absences and the role that a breakdown in one’s financial situation may contribute to their overall negative well-being. Given the nuances and stigma associated with law enforcement, I doubt that any sworn officer will readily admit that they have “money problems” and is the source of their other wellness and mental-health issues. Of course, we cannot manage what we cannot measure, hence the need for a pro-active approach.A Starting PointSo, what can be done? As employees, I offer the following tips:Budget – I know, I know – most of us are less than thrilled with the idea of completing a rigorous, detailed analysis of their income and expenditures. Start by viewing a budget as a tool to help you direct where your money should go, rather than seeing it as something restrictive. Most importantly, avoid the trap of budgeting unknown and uncertain sources of income like overtime and paid duties. Stick with budgeting those dollars that you are certain you will get. Treat “extra” income as a “gift”.Build an emergency fund – Those “extra” sources of income could be used to do this. While officers almost never have to worry about being paid while absent from work, it is those unforeseen expenses that create havoc, instability, and threaten one’s financial fitness. These may include large home repairs, major purchases, etc. A cash buffer can create security and peace of mind. Other tips include eliminating high-interest debts (credit card), risk transfer such as insurance coverage, and have a financial plan for retirement from as early as possible.Employers do have some responsibility, too.
I offer the following tips to my fellow employers:
Education – Be proactive. Offer financial fitness, literacy, and planning education as part of orientation, or at least within the first year of an employee’s hire. To limit any perception of bias or privacy breakdown, this should be outsourced to accredited financial planners or other subject matters. Make this education a part of regular training, personal, and/or professional development.Employee Wellness Plan – Expand wellness plans to much more than the physical aspect of wellness. Show the relationship between a breakdown in financial fitness and a person’s overall well-being. Ensure there is EAP support for those experiencing financial struggles.Other tips include having family financial planning sessions, given that policing in Ontario is still a male-dominated profession where female partners are more than likely involved in making financial-related decisions. Also, show the positive relationship between reduced absenteeism, productivity, and morale to justify to police the expenses associated with any of the above.A career in law enforcement is already demanding and stressful for officers. This can be compounded by the added uncertainty one may experience as a result of insufficient financial planning especially as retirement nears. This may lead individuals to depend on overtime or seek a second job rather than spending time resetting and refreshing in preparation for the uncertainty of what lies ahead on their next shift. By adding financial well-being to one’s overall fitness regime, police officers will be in a better place to combat other stressors all while building a solid foundation for financial freedom.Roger Ramkissoon is the Chief Administrative Officer for the Cobourg Police Service. He is an writer and an advocate for financial planning education. He is also a holder of the Personal Financial Planner (PFP) designation among others and can be reached at roger.ramkissoon@cobourgpolice.com.
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