Wearable Technology: A Wellbeing Option for Serving Police Officers and Staff? A Comparison of Results of a Pilot Study with Firearms Officers and a Group of Mixed Officers and Staff
In the context of enhancing the wellbeing and performance of firearms officers in the UK who have experienced shooting incidents, WT interventions offer promising solutions. Various wearable devices, such as heart rate monitors, electrodermal activity sensors, and sleep trackers, can continuously monitor officers’ physiological responses. These devices enable timely intervention and support by detecting signs of stress, anxiety, or other emotional states.
The aim of this study was to establish if police officers, including those working in firearms roles, might engage with WT to support their wellbeing, and if the health data collected can identify any trends that can inform future wellbeing interventions and initiatives.
2. Materials and Methods
2.1. Study Overview
The study was approved by the Institutional Review Board (or Ethics Committee) of Liverpool John Moores University (ethics no 23/LCP/006). The study focused on the experience and perceived wellbeing of firearms police officers wearing the “WHOOP” band, comparing their results with a mixed group of police officers and police staff. Participants provided informed consent before data collection. Participants were provided with a “WHOOP” device and a free subscription for an initial six-month period. The “WHOOP” (Model 4.0, Manufactured: Boston, MA, USA) band is a wrist-worn device, which enables the user to extract information such as heart rate variability (HRV), resting heart rate (RHR) and respiration rate.
Prior to the participants’ use of the “WHOOP” band, officers completed an anonymized survey to track and measure health-related concerns such as anxiety, stress, depression, sleep or sleep quality, exercise, and alcohol consumption. Upon completion of the six months wearing the “WHOOP” bands, staff from both groups were asked to complete the same survey as a post-measure to identify changes in participants’ wellbeing or behaviors. Next, two focus groups were conducted with firearms officers and officers from the mixed police staff group, examining perceptions of the use of the wearable tech and related outcomes/changes in their wellbeing and behaviors.
Resources related to stress and trauma (such as hotlines, support groups, etc.) were provided at the end of the pre- and post-intervention surveys. Additional support was provided to all officers involved in the study and the Occupational Health Unit attended the on boarding with all firearms officers. The firearms officers have continual assessments by the Occupational Health Unit as standard, so any issues are raised and dealt with internally, this is not discussed with the research team for confidential reasons.
2.3.1. Wellbeing Questions
Participants completed an anonymized pre- and post-intervention survey. The survey included four validated scales (described below) and self-perceived general wellbeing questions. These wellbeing questions were all self-reported and subjective to the individual to interpret their appropriate response. The wellbeing survey included questions on had the participants received training on stress and trauma, stress/anxiety, use of self-care, use of mindfulness, physical activity levels, getting enough sleep, and work–life balance.
2.3.2. Depression Anxiety Stress Scales (DASS)
2.3.3. The Perceived Stress Scale (PSS)
2.3.4. The Pittsburg Sleep Quality Index (PSQI)
2.3.5. The Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT-C)
Anonymized biometric data was extracted and categorized into ten variables: average sleep minutes, sleep performance (i.e., time in bed sleeping divided by the sleep needed), sleep consistency (i.e., similarity between sleep and wake-up times), sleep efficiency (i.e., the percentage of time in bed actually sleeping), HRV (i.e., variance in time between heartbeats, known as R-R interval and measured in milliseconds, “WHOOP” calculates the root mean square of successive differences (RMSSD) between heartbeats, with a greater variability indicating a higher level of readiness to execute at a high level), workout (i.e., calculated as a binary variable of yes or no), RHR (i.e., time when the body is at its most restful state), average strain (i.e., average amount of physical and mental strain the body is under (a measure incorporating cardiovascular and muscular load)), recovery (i.e., body’s capacity and time to return to baseline after strain (a measure incorporating HRV, RHR, sleep performance, respiratory rate and skin temperature)), and training (i.e., calculated as a categorical variable: attending training, off, days shift, night shift).
2.5. Focus Groups
Focus groups were conducted with participants from both groups (i.e., firearms officers and mixed staff) to better understand their experiences using the WT. After using the devices, the groups were asked the following questions described in brief below:
What are your thoughts now?
Have your views changed?
Do you understand the data more?
Have you altered any habits?
Have you accessed the support?
Barriers to wearing?
Positives of the band?
Would you recommend the WT?
Could we have done anything differently?
Are there any other aspects to discuss?
2.6. Statistical Analysis
Statistical analysis was conducted using IBM SPSS Version 28.0. Analyses were organized in three parts. First, biometric data from the firearms police officers’ group and the mixed police staff group were statistically analyzed to provide insights into each variable and the relationships between variables. The correlation analysis conducted is the Pearson correlation coefficient.
4.1. Brief Overview of Findings
The results appear to suggest that firearms officers and the police staff group have similar sleep efficiency, but firearms officers have worse sleep consistency and sleep performance. The firearms officers appear to have higher HRV and slightly lower resting heart rate. Both groups spoke positively during the focus groups of how engaging with and utilizing elements of WT such as data monitoring improved their quality of life, giving them a better understanding of sleep, wellbeing and how they had consequently engaged in lifestyle modifications.
4.2. Heart Rate Variability
The firearms officers were evenly split in their perceptions of getting enough sleep and the mixed group of officers predominantly stated they did not get enough sleep. This is similar to their PSQI scores, with increased number of firearms officer participants indicating poor sleep. This sentiment can be explained by the WT which revealed firearms officers had reduced sleep duration, sleep performance and consistency compared to the mixed group.
The mixed group also had a high prevalence of indicating self-reported poor sleep despite their favorable WT data. The WT data indicate that sleep efficiency was the same and high (90%) for both groups. This suggests that good sleep efficiency alone does not mirror perceived adequate sleep. It is expected that sleep efficiency combined with improved sleep duration, performance, and consistency is required to achieve alignment a subjective improvement in sleep that the individual may categorize as getting adequate sleep.
This cohort did not display high frequency of severe depression, anxiety, or stress.
4.5. Use of WT
At this stage there are several issues a police service might need to consider before implementing the use of WT, but due to the small cohort size within this study, none are significant. A further control study is planned by this research group in 2024 that might give a police service more direction for long-term adoption, but early indications from these studies show the importance of confidentiality and trust of the data and service is key for the long-term success of the program.
4.6. Strengths and Limitations
The main strength of this study is the holistic assessment of a multitude of variables in relation to the health and wellbeing of police officers, including firearms officers. The study combines quantitative and qualitative elements to provide more context to the experience of officers utilizing WT. The study provides insight into where future research direction can be applied with this special population and others like it.
This study is primarily limited by its reduced sample size, inhibiting the ability to make significant statistical comparisons between groups, draw significant conclusions about the data, or be considered representative of all police officers. The study sample is also not reflective of true gender representation in police organisations given the low number of females in both groups. The study also did not capture details such as shift patterns, emergency incident exposure, smoking habits, body composition, nutrition, and caffeine consumption. Stress levels will be variable over an officer’s career so greater understanding and exploration of mental wellbeing and its interaction with length of service in relation to the health outcomes is required, which is beyond the scope of this study. These factors can influence the variables measured and future research should, therefore, consider their inclusion for a more comprehensive evaluation.
Given that some participants expressed concerns regarding data privacy and issues with the design of WT devices, these are a limitation to be considered. Addressing these concerns and issues can influence perception and acceptance of WT; therefore, future research should investigate if this encourages more effective implementation of this technology.
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