Return-to-work after critical firearms incidents: developing an evidence-based approach.

Dr Anna Sutton1, Terri-Anne Sole2, Sergeant Jarod Walsh2, Professor Devon Polaschek1

1University Of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand
2New Zealand Police, New Zealand


Policing can be a hazardous occupation. Officers face dangerous, sometimes life-threatening, situations in fulfilling their roles. Although the mental health effects of critical incidents have been well documented, the impact on day-to-day work performance is less well understood. As a result, programmes to support officers to return to work both mentally healthy and performing well are haphazard, often ad hoc, and lack evidence for their effectiveness. We provide a brief overview of the current state of evidence for post-critical-incident return-to-work programmes, demonstrating preliminary evidence for the importance of peer support and work-specific interventions. We then describe NZ Police’s reintegration programme for officers involved in shootings. Based on the Edmonton Police (Canada) model, tailored to Aotearoa New Zealand, this programme emphasises peer support and an individualised, officer-driven approach to support the officer in returning to work safely and with confidence. It aims to reduce the potential for long-term psychological injury, increase post-event operational effectiveness, and retain staff. The unique value of this programme is in placing the emphasis on work-specific challenges that officers may face after critical incidents and addressing them in practical ways. We conclude by briefly describing our ongoing evaluation of this programme, which is already identifying significant positive impacts on officers who have taken part. When complete, the evaluation will contribute to the evidence base for return-to-work programmes, make recommendations for future improvements and consider the possibility of rollout to a wider range of critical incidents.


Anna Sutton specialises in the application of psychology to understanding and improving our work lives and workplaces. Her research and publications centre on the role of personality, authenticity and self-awareness at work, investigating how they influence our well-being. In collaboration with the NZ Defence Force and NZ Police, she helps evaluate interventions designed to improve employee well-being and protect the mental health of those involved in high stress roles.

Sergeant Jarod Walsh has 24 years Police service in a variety of areas including response, investigations, operational support and is a team leader on the Armed Offenders Squad. He has developed the New Zealand Police Reintegration program to support officers return to work following their involvement in critical incidents (Police Shootings).

Detective Terri-Anne Sole joined the NZ Police in January 2000 and since then has worked in varying roles across the organisation. She is currently a Network Lead with the Evidence Based Policing Centre and holds secondary roles as a Peer Support Reintegration Officer and a Specialist Adult Witness Interviewer.