In This Story
“If you have turned on the television in the last few years, or even the last few days, you are very aware the relationship between police officers and their communities is suffering,” said Corinne Dopp, reflecting on the seemingly daily news stories involving violence between law enforcement officers and the public they are sworn to protect.
While many in the public-at-large see police as antagonists, even calling on officials to “defund the police,” Dopp sees things from a different angle. She serves as a police officer in the Town of Glen Alpine Police Department, in Morganton, North Carolina, and as such, she’s aware of the trauma—induced by hypervigilance, violence, and working shifts in hazardous environments—that law enforcement officers suffer as a result of daily interactions with domestic turmoil, mental health issues, and criminal activity.
In March 2021, she cofounded a business, with colleague Gregory Snider, to assist police officers address with mental health struggles—Navigating Pathways Home—but the 2021 public health graduate from Appalachian State University realized she needed more knowledge and skills in order to achieve her goal of helping police in jurisdictions other than her own.
To accomplish this mission, Dopp enrolled in the Organization Development and Knowledge Management (ODKM) master’s program at George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government. ODKM is a cohort-based, integrated learning experience that deviates from higher education pedagogies: Students act as a team to learn and apply essential leadership proficiencies, creative problem-solving, and advanced analytical skills to a range of professional fields. Many come to the program to advance their careers; others, such as Dopp, learn methodologies not available in traditional degree programs that they immediately apply to their own organizational concepts.
In Dopp’s case, “I have found the answer for how it is possible to build a system that will address the problem [of police mental health issues] in a preventative way from within each police department,” she said. She said she has a plan for an “internal wellness framework” for every police force, at no cost.
That advanced learning does not come without sacrifice. Dopp enrolled in the Schar School’s ODKM program knowing it would mean leaving her three children—ages 13,11, and 4—at home 400 miles away, with her Army active-duty husband Joshua, a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne, for the 12-hour round-trip drive for weekly in-person classes at Mason Square in Arlington.
But it also afforded her an unexpected opportunity: Late last year she was accepted into Mason’s Global Education Office’s semester abroad at the U.K.’s University of Oxford, where she is being exposed to that country’s master’s-level curriculum designed specifically for police. She’s also been a guest lecturer at Cambridge’s Anglia Ruskin University.
“The 12-hours-plus round-trip is the longest we’ve had in the ODKM program,” said professor and program founding director Tojo Thatchenkery. The drive, he suggested, “was also her opportunity for reflection about the changes she wanted to create for the mental health of her own law enforcement community. She understands the emotional turmoil that comes with law enforcement and wants to think outside the box to enhance the well-being of fellow officers.
“With that determination, she is now learning from the best practices of officers around the world in a program at Oxford. Corrine’s indefatigable efforts are one of the best examples of the positive changes ODKM students have been making for social justice and well-being.”
Dopp’s service to her fellow police—helping process trauma, building resiliency, and underscoring community—is important, she said, because as of now, “the way we are treating police officers is ineffective, and we can see this in their average number of pension withdrawals.” She cites World Health Organization figures that show the average citizen experiences one to two “critical incidents” in their lives, outside of normal loss and grief. “A career police officer experiences 600 to 800,” she said.
“This has a health cost. Most officers don’t last five years in the profession, and those who make it to retirement meet that accomplishment at the highest risk of death within their first two years.
“The average life expectancy of a citizen in the United States is 74 years. The average life expectancy of a law enforcement officer is 53 years.”
Additional reporting by Anduela Nika Johnson.