Occupational Stress in Law Enforcement & Intervention Strategies
Stress in law enforcement is complex. Stressors vary by individual and because of that combatting stress is law enforcement is not an easy task. Broad strokes and blanket programs are used in an effort to reach the greatest number of employees with strategies designed to prevent and reduce stress in the field of law enforcement. I believe that a more individualized approach is required to have the greatest impact on officers working in this field.
The occupation of a police officer is commonly referred to as one of the most stressful occupations. Causes of stress for police officers can be linked to the organizational structure and the demands of the profession to include shift work, overtime, and years of service. The rigid nature of the organization has been referred to as one of the primary sources of stress for law enforcement. In addition to the stress of the organizational structure, police encounter the threat of violent criminals and disturbing crime scenes as a part of routine daily possibilities.
Potential causes of stress for correctional staff are similar to the stress that police officers endure. Stress is derived from internal and external sources to include, prison/jail organizational structure, nature of work-supervision of the inmate population, overtime, shift work, length of time on the job, privacy/safety concerns, threats of inmate violence/actual inmate violence, inmate demands/manipulations, co-workers, specific post or assignments, poor public image, and low pay.
Correctional officers and police officers had the highest rates of non-fatal violent incidents at work between 1990-1995 (Finn, p., 2001). Research regarding causes of stress for law enforcement was inconsistent when attempting to determine the highest rates of stress.
Areas of concern for both correctional and police officers that experience work-related stress span from work-related effects to the effects on the employees personal life. Officers can suffer physical ailments as a result of work-related stress that include heart disease, high blood pressure, and eating disorders, etc. Studies have shown that disability of officers has been linked to stress related causes. Additional areas of concern are staff burnout, personal and family relationships that include the displacement of frustration onto family/friends and poor work performance which ultimately compromises institutional safety and creates stress for co-workers.
One of the most significant causes of stress in law enforcement is critical incidents and the impact of critical incident stress in law enforcement. A critical incident can be defined as “any situation in which an officer’s expectations of personal infallibility suddenly become tempered by imperfection and crude reality” (Kureczka, 1996). Critical Incidents in law enforcement are loosely defined because the nature of the incidents can affect officers differently. Examples of critical incidents in law enforcement include line of duty death, serious injury of a co-worker, officer involved shooting, traumatic death of a child, hostage and riot situations.
Critical Incident Stress can lead to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Four to ten percent of individuals who experience a critical incident will develop PTSD. Research shows that 87% of all emergency workers experience the effects of critical incident stress (Kureczka,1996). Stressors can be multiplied by compounding events (i.e. death of a suspect and injury to the officer).
The effects of a critical incident affect the officer physically, emotionally and cognitively. Physical affects (effects) can range from headaches, muscle aches, sleep disturbance, decreased sexual activity, decreased appetite, and impotence. Emotional affects include anxiety, fear, guilt, sadness, anger, irritability, withdrawal and a sense of feeling lost....
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