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The First Five Years
The POPPA Organization opened its doors in 1996 with a pledge to New York City police officers of all ranks: Your peers-fellow cops-will be available every hour of every day to help you tackle personal and professional problems. The POPPA Organization's peer support services are strictly confidential and free of charge. The POPPA Organization saves officers' family relationships, careers, and lives.

Alarms went off throughout the NYPD in 1995. Twenty-six officers had committed suicide in two years, and mental health services were not meeting the needs of cops in crisis. City Council hearings on the police suicides confirmed an imperative already identified by Bill Genet, a 30-year veteran of the NYPD and trustee of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association: Police needed a program independent of the NYPD in which officers voluntarily seek support from fellow officers.

With start-up funding from the City Council, the PBA, and the NYPD, Bill Genet contracted a counseling and psychotherapy group to train the first class of cops who volunteered to become Peer Support Officers. Over the next five years, 250 cops were trained as PSOs to maintain a corps of some 200 each year. PSOs are available in all New York City boroughs 24 hours a day, every day, to meet with officers who contact the POPPA through its HelpLine: 888-COPS-COP (888-267-7267).

During its first year of operation, the POPPA Organization received 250 HelpLine calls. The next year, it received 550 calls and the next year, 950. In 2001, prior to September 11, the POPPA Organization received over 1,800 calls. The POPPA Organization's Peer Support Officers meet with the caller, immediately if needed or on the following day. They listen, talk, and assist their fellow officer, when required, in securing the right professional services.

Through its tenacious networking, the POPPA Organization has begun to change the way officers think about reaching out for help. Cops traditionally have tended to think of themselves as problem-solvers, not as people with problems. Many have considered counseling as stigmatizing and career-threatening. According to the POPPA Organization, seeking support and averting a crisis is a sign of strength, not weakness. The POPPA Organization helps the strong stay strong.

Virtually all of the POPPA Organization's work since 9/11 has been focused on the trauma and stress experienced by police officers in the wake of the Twin Towers' collapse. The POPPA Organization has re-established its office in donated space at 26 Broadway, and calls to its HelpLine leveled off by September 2002 to about 90 per month. For three in four clients, the POPPA Organization assists in finding the right kind of help from mental health professionals. At any given time, about 35 officers are receiving support from the POPPA Organization as they undergo treatment.

The POPPA Organization estimates that before 9/11, about 10 percent of the NYPD's 40,000 police personnel knew about its services. Today, about 40 percent are aware of the POPPA Organization's work. The POPPA Organization has engendered trust in its clients, replacing their isolation with an effective support network. The agency has helped many thousands of cops by mitigating the effects of trauma and accelerating recovery, yet many thousands remain in need of the POPPA Organization's services.

Ceremonies marking the anniversary of 9/11 did not bring closure for officers who had worked at Ground Zero. Because 9/11 had no precedents, its aftereffects cannot be predicted. But the sources of stress and other problems that existed before 9/11 remain, magnified by the World Trade Center attacks. In the aftermath of the Oklahoma City Federal Building bombing, three officers from a force of 1,000 committed suicide. Divorce rates among rescue workers jumped by 300 percent, misconduct rose by 80 percent, and alarming developments continued to emerge a year after the 1995 bombing.

The POPPA Organization now faces massive challenges to assist police officers before their problems become insurmountable and to ensure that officers in crisis receive the help they need. Can the POPPA Organization meet these challenges? Yes, says POPPA. Together we can.
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© Copyright POPPA - Police Organization Providing Peer Assistance - 501C3 Non-Profit Organization
POPPA Inc. - 26 Broadway, Suite 1640 - New York, NY 10004-1898
Telephone: 212.298.9111 - Fax: 212.233.0548

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