Stress in Law Enforcement
Stress plays a part in the lives of everyone. Some stress is not only inevitable, it can be good. For example, the physical stress of “working out” improves your cardiovascular system, and feeling pressure that causes you to study harder for an exam can improve your score. Police stress, however, refers to the negative pressures related to police work. Police officers are not superhumans. Law enforcement officers are affected by their daily exposure to human indecency and pain; that dealing with a suspicious and sometimes hostile public takes its toll on them; and that the shift changes, the long periods of boredom, and the ever-present danger that are part of police work do cause serious job stress. Dr. Hans Selye developed the name stressors for the effect of long-term environmental threats. Dr. Selye maintains that the unrelieved effort to cope with stressors can lead to heart disease, high blood pressure, ulcers, digestive disorders, and headaches (Seyle, 1978). Stressors in police work fall into four categories, first there are stresses inherent in police work, secondly stresses arising internally from police department practices and policies, thirdly external stresses stemming from the criminal justice system and the society at large, and lastly internal stresses confronting individual officers. According to Dr. Hans stress occurs in three stages within the human body: Alarm reaction, resistance, and exhaustion. The alarm reaction produces physiological changes known collectively as “fight or flight” syndrome in response to an emergency. Heart rate, blood pressure, and muscle tone increase. The secretion of adrenaline heightens awareness, a vital survivor factor that police officers need when confronted with life-or-death situations. The resistance stage is characterized by more control and a greater ability to withstand the effects of stress while maintaining high performance and is caused by prolonged exposure to a stressful situation. For a police officer examples of this could be drawn-out domestic disturbance calls, or hostage situations, even though the stress inducing danger still might be present an officers body adjusts to the situation and tries to return to normal. Lastly the exhaustion stage comes into play when the resistance stage is ending. In the exhaustion stage, tiredness overcomes the coping mechanisms, and the responses that were experienced in the alarm stage. The officer could face problems such as chronic fatigue or depression, feelings of alienation develop. The officer’s body continues to produce high amounts of adrenaline, the heart becomes overworked and blood and cholesterol levels increase and actual tissue damage can occur. When this happens it can produce illnesses such as heart disease, gastric disorders, arthritis, allergies, and kidney disease. Police stress arises from several features of police work. Alterations in body rhythms from monthly shift rotation, for example, reduce productivity. The change from a day to a swing, or graveyard, shift not only requires biological adjustment but also complicates officers’ personal lives. Role conflicts between the job—serving the public, enforcing the law, and upholding ethical standards—and personal responsibilities as spouse, parent, and friend act as stressors. Other stressors in police work include: Threats to officers’ health and safety, Boredom, alternating with the need for sudden alertness and mobilized energy, Responsibility for protecting the lives of others, continual exposure to people in pain or distress, The need to control emotions even when provoked, The presence of a gun, even during off-duty hours, The fragmented nature of police work, with only rare opportunities to follow cases to conclusion (Matti, 2011). Administrative policies and procedures, which officers rarely participate in formulating, can add to stress. One-officer patrol cars...
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