It is rare one gets the opportunity to tell the story, the REAL story of how an idea is born and the associated struggles of making it a reality. But here it is...while in high school, I became part of a focus group for a teen line that later turned into a peer hotline called Teen Line Cares. Teens would call and talk to other teens that could relate to their struggles. This concept later became the foundation of a hotline for police officers that would be answered by retired officers. My mentor and co-founder of Teen Line, Dr. Elaine Leader, guided me through adolescence and became the “grandmother” of CopLine. I recognized that teens trusted and confided in other teens and were more apt to discuss their problems and conflicts with each other, as opposed to "adults".
Fast forward to many years later when I was getting my first Masters in California. I had wanted to become a police officer and began doing ride-alongs with both LAPD and the Sheriff's Department, while gang presence in the community was at its peak. I was able to look at law enforcement through different lenses and realized I did NOT have what it took to become one myself. I loved the adrenaline, but the reality of the job haunted me. I also learned about the camaraderie, forged by sharing not just a uniform, but a soul. I would never be part of this brotherhood, as I would never wear the uniform. The realization that cops wanted to talk to cops, because they are who they’ve trusted on a level few will ever know, stayed with me long after I moved to New Jersey and continued to do ride-alongs.
The idea of a law enforcement hotline developed back in 1994 when an officer (one of three that year) who I had done a ride-along with in my county, died by suicide. I went to see the director of The Monmouth County Police Academy and asked him who was counseling officers after critical incidents. The answer was “no one.” I asked him how many more deaths it would take until someone started to talk about cops dying by suicide in the police academy. I began teaching at the Monmouth County Police Academy soon after that. What started as a two-hour lecture turned into twenty. I was making a difference and still get calls from officers I taught 17 years ago.
Years later and much to my surprise, I had to go back to school for my second masters due to New Jersey laws. No words could express my dismay as school is unbearable to me. My policy class required me to meet my Assemblywoman, Clare Farragher, who by chance, if there is such a thing), came from a Law Enforcement background. Recalling my previous experience volunteering for Teen Line and the need for cops to talk to other cops, I wanted to create a safe and confidential line for officers to call in order to combat the rise in suicide rates. I contacted one of my professors from UCLA, Dr. Edwin Schneidman, a world-renowned thanatologist. He was also one of the founders of the Los Angeles Suicide Prevention Center, the oldest suicide hotline in the country. He shared with me the best practices for a hotline, especially with the population I was targeting, as well as my excitement and vision for the line.
As a result, I wrote legislation that I called Cop2Cop, which I lobbied for along with Retired Chief John McGuire and then Sheriff Joseph Oxley and which was passed into law within 18 months. I also testified before the Assembly and Senate countless times. This would be the first time a hotline for police officers had ever been legislated in any state and the funding source was included in the bill. A hotline, whose foundation was seeded in high school, had now come to fruition. I consulted for the Department of Personnel, who oversees the hotline, for two years to ensure that legislative intent was met. I was a young woman with a dream and no experience in politics, who believed people would do the right thing. My naivety left me heartbroken when the integrity of the line I had spent so many years advocating and lobbying for, was no longer what I had envisioned. I realized that funding a hotline for police officers through a state agency would pose a significant barrier for officers to trust and call at when confidentiality could not be ensured. I then began setting the foundation for CopLine and working on forming a not-for-profit to guarantee the integrity of the line would be met and maintained.
In 2004, I officially established CopLine, a national hotline for police officers which would later be answered 24/7 by retired, vetted, and trained officers throughout the United States. In April 2018, CopLine became an International hotline when we opened the line into Canada as well. CopLine, is a not for profit organization that does not receive any government funding, to ensure strict confidentiality and the structural integrity of the line. We are the only law enforcement hotline that is confidential and will not notify any other party, unless the caller provides explicit consent. That mission has not and will not be compromised as the good of the one cannot outweigh the good of the many.
In the beginning, I did not advertise the line and the few calls I did receive were solely due to word of mouth. The phone only rang in my office until 12 June 2016, the date of the Pulse Nightclub shooting. After that, I began the process of getting the line transferred from my office to a cellphone that I carried around with me 24/7. However, it wasn’t until 7 July 2016, the day of the Dallas shooting, that the need for CopLine to be fully operational became paramount. A female called my office, crying and distraught, screaming, “You have to help my brothers and sisters, they're killing them!” I sat there, holding two masters and having founded two police hotlines, in silence. I felt helpless as I listened, just listened, to the despair she was experiencing. However, after I hung up, I realized there was something I could do. I expedited the transfer of the line so it rang on a separate cell phone of mine and sent out an SOS to police therapists from all over the country, who then helped me answer calls until the immediate crisis was over. One of the police therapists, Loreli Thompson, a retired Lt. from Lacey PD, who holds a Ph.D. in clinical and forensic psychology, has answered the line with me since I first asked for help. I met with Sarah Creighton, Deputy Chief of San Diego PD, who was instrumental in establishing the first training for CopLine listeners which she herself attended two months after her retirement.
At the same time, we began recruiting retired officers to become CopLine listeners. One of CopLine’s first applicants, Dian Wright, was a retired detective from Fort Worth, who founded her peer support unit back in the 1980’s. Dian, Loreli, Sarah and I answered the line ourselves until April 2017 when our first class was trained and more retirees began taking shifts. From 2016 to 2018, I physically transferred the line every 12 hours from my cell phone to the scheduled listener. It “worked,” and that is what mattered. My motto was, "Do it right, not fast,” as I knew this was a needed resource and I couldn't afford for something so valuable to fail or be dismantled due to poor planning and execution. I also believed “if you build it, they [officers] (not just he) will come.”
CopLine wouldn’t be what it is today without the support and dedication of its Board. It is NOT just any one of us, it is the TEAM, that makes us who we are. We solve problems together and stay in our own lanes, checking each other's blind spots. Since 2004, my treasurer Meg Schaul, has stood by my side. A 30+ year relationship started with a promise in the 1980’s that if I ever started a non-profit, she would handle all the accounting. She has been unwavering in her belief in me and CopLine. Our lead trainer, Jay Nagdimon, PhD, has also been in my life for over two decades. In fact, I checked with him BEFORE I created CopLine, as I couldn't implement, nor run a hotline, without him. He established our in-depth Active Listener training course and in-service training throughout the year. Jay is truly the yin to my yang, as we are the most unlikely duo that fulfills the necessary requirements to have a successful line. Our Media Coordinator, along with the Board of CopLine, completes our team. These board members, in addition to the volunteer force of retired police officers, have allowed my dream and CopLine’s mission to become a reality. CopLine is a resource that officers, retired or active, and their families, can turn to when they need a safe place to deal with the many stressors they face both on and off the job. As I write this, our officers and their families are again faced with an international crisis. However, this time the enemy is invisible…. COVID-19. Regardless of the crisis, CopLine will always be on the other end of a phone to answer “the call.” It is important to me that CopLine exists as my pay it forward, for all that law enforcement officers have done and continue to do. I forever hope that CopLine’s existence far exceeds my lifespan and that officers and their loved ones all over the world know that they are never alone.
The original logo was drawn by an officer in 2004 and had a flip phone on the end. As cell phones evolved, I realized I couldn’t keep up with technology. Thus, we removed the dated phone and opted not to include another one when the current logo was created in 2019. Additionally, after becoming more internationally unified, we designed the letter “O” to be made up of three badges: The Police, Sheriff and Canadian Badges’. The original colors of light blue and gold were the colors of my alma mater...UCLA Bruins.
The number 9 was always in the trademarked logos as it has been my lucky number. I was number 9 in high school for both JV and Varsity volleyball. I wore that number for any sport that I played.
Both of my daughters held the position of CopLine Secretary when they were 18. Nicole, my oldest, turned over the reins to Emily who currently sits on the Board as Secretary. Being Secretary was not about nepotism, it was more like making a deal with the devil through genetics. In truth, they both executed the position with honor and integrity.
In 2013, I was asked to attend a symposium on Suicide Prevention through the US Department of Justice and Community Oriented Policing Services, along with the International Association of Chiefs of Police, held in Alexandria, VA. The room read like the “who’s who” of law enforcement. I was surrounded by colleagues I had admired for years. The room was separated into predetermined groups according to one’s expertise. I was in the training group. Deputy Chief Sarah Creighton, who started her PD’s Wellness Unit, which is now a standard used in police departments throughout the country, was in my group. She and I stayed in touch and forged a relationship that gave me the courage (kick in the ass) I needed to train the first group of listeners. Sarah set time aside for me to present at the San Diego Retired Fire and Police Association and I flew out again in January 2017 to meet with her about CopLine training. She would be retiring as of 1 February and wanted to establish the first training. Before I even sat down on her couch, she had me call Jay and ask for several dates that he was available for the training. Sarah began answering CopLine on 2/1/17, the day she was officially retired, and later secured all needed supplies, rooms and food for a successful training in April. Sarah remains my “Danny” on Thunder Road.
In May of 2018, Francis Graf attended CopLine training in Austin, TX. He came from Canada and was looking to set up a hotline there. After having gone through what I did with Cop2Cop, I became anxious that CopLine too would be taken from me. I had to face that fear and do it through good communication skills, which I can lack when I am scared. Francis had secured a Canadian Website which was CopLine.ca. My fear worsened when he told me he was trademarking Copline in Canada. I had the trademark in the US but did not realize that I needed to trademark in all countries CopLine would expand to. I had to decide if I would trust a “stranger” and start unpacking my emotional baggage that stemmed from my experience with the hotline in NJ. One night, Francis and I discussed what we were both looking for and ended up forming an unbreakable bond. I laid out my past, as well as the present and future of CopLine. Francis only wanted to help Canadian officers and their families. He arranged for CopLine.ca to redirect to the American website and offered to put all intellectual properties from Canada, in my name, if the international issues were worked out. He abandoned his application for the trademark which allowed me to apply for it. He agreed to sign anything I needed to reassure me he was not looking to steal this idea or hotline from me. CopLine opened up the lines in Canada soon after the training in April of 2018 making us an International hotline. Francis is now CopLine’s Vice President of International Operations and ensures all CopLine materials are sensitive to International law enforcement, not just the US.
One of our volunteers wrote Joe Mantegna’s agent, Dan Ramm, to ask if Joe Mantegna would do a PSA for us. I use clips from the show Mr. Mantegna stars in, Criminal Minds, when I train CopLine listeners. The show has dealt with some of the most difficult topics officers may have experienced or will experience on and off the job, including child molestation, divorce and PTSD. On 12/06/19, I received a much-anticipated call from Mr. Ramm who told us that Mr. Mantegna would be honored to do a PSA for CopLine. The catch...he was only available the following week if we wanted it done before Christmas and needed to secure a studio, teleprompter and green screen. I was with my VP of International Relations, Jim Alvarez, who said, “this is exciting, don’t you think?” Then came the discussion on WTF do we do now? We put in a call to a contact who did not answer. Jim gave me that look, so I decided to post in the member only Facebook page for people from Beverly Hills, for the first time. Within a few minutes I got several messages, but one in particular stood out. Robbie Curtis called me and told me “I think we can take care of all of that.” Amazingly enough, the studio was at my alma mater, a place that I had not visited since I had graduated in 1981. On 12/16/19, I met Joe Mantegna and Dan Ramm alongside Jim Alvarez, Emily Eng, Robbie Curtis and Romeo Carey, the Director of Media at Beverly Hills High School.
I was visiting my oldest daughter Nicole, the secretary of CopLine at the time, during her Sophomore year at Lafayette College and went to the bathroom. While I was in the stall, my daughter came running in, muted the phone and screamed, “it’s CopLine” and threw the phone over the stall. Without missing a beat, I unmuted and continued the call. After a significant rapport was established, I decided to share what happened with the caller. He laughed and acknowledged that he thought there was a change in voice after the initial “hello, this is CopLine, what’s going on” but was too tied up in what was happening to care...Needless to say, my daughter graduated as a biology major, nothing to do with psych.
Some of the more memorable transfers of the phone line happened while visiting various states to watch bull riding, one of my family’s favorite sporting events. The CopLine cell phone I used to transfer the line went to lectures, conferences, vacations, concerts and an unfortunate hospital stay.
After a while, I decided that the transfer could be done by trusted family members and my VP Lt. Mike Nevil (retired) who at the time oversaw all of our technology issues and filled in all the needed blanks for CopLine. Everyone dreaded the call from me that said, “hey, can you take CopLine from ... to...” before it was handed off like a hot potato. We had listeners who depended on us to transfer the line in order for them to be relieved. Inevitably, however, we had a few mishaps along the way. Some highlights were oversleeping, the phone not being charged, the phone being misplaced, and of course when flights were delayed - all of which prevented the line from being transferred. All listeners were good sports and endured the growing pains of CopLine, knowing they were part of a team trying to accomplish something that had never been done. We were and are still a family.
As we enter the second quarter of 2020, it is my hope that CopLine will ring worldwide. I envision our website having the ability to choose any language and learn about CopLine. I envision being able to do “Train the Trainer” sessions, in person or interactively so that our training methods stay consistent throughout the world. One of the keys to our success has been the bonds formed through the 40+ hours of CopLine training, amongst the Call Taker volunteers. Challenging them to learn the active listening skills needed to answer the line, as well as deal with the emotions that arise during training, build these bonds. I foresee the incoming calls going through a single portal, 1-800-Cop-Line, and then be routed within the caller’s country to a retired law enforcement officer. Each country, as we grow, will be modeled after our current model where ANONYMITY AND CONFIDENTIALITY is maintained.
It has always been my dream to grow our New Years Eve Midnight Run For The Call by having an officer from every department participate virtually in person or virtually. I believe there are many companies that benefit tangentially from law enforcement careers and, it is my wish, that those companies will become corporate sponsors of CopLine. Back in 1995 I had a dream and twice, that dream has become a reality, coming to life. In my heart, I know there is no reason these hopes and dreams won’t either. It is pure, comes from my soul and is just “the right thing to do”.