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This study explored the effectiveness of a novel technique for police departments to support their officers and promote wellness: the use of service dogs. We evaluated officer perceptions in two mid-sized, municipal police departments that have wellness programs with a service dog that is permanently assigned to a full-time police officer handler: Groton and Naugatuck, Connecticut. We assessed 6 factors believed to influence police officer wellness including: operational and organizational stress using the Police Stress Questionnaire (McCreary & Thompson, 2006); topical stressors including those related to the COVID-19 pandemic, police use of force and community relations, and police reform efforts; Perceived Organizational Support (POS); receptivity to service dogs; and willingness to seek assistance for mental health issues. We found evidence that exposure to service dogs is significantly linked to both POS and receptivity to service dogs in policing. We also found that officer willingness to seek their department’s assistance regarding mental health approaches significance with greater exposure to the service dog (p.=0.07). Although we found no significant evidence that exposure to service dogs is linked to stress reduction, we found that police reforms pose a substantial perceived stress on officers in the study. This finding presents a serious challenge for reformers that risks undermining officer wellness. Implications of our findings and recommendations for future research are discussed.

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