The Real Dangers of Police Work

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Many people count the possibility of getting shot as the most significant danger that a police officer faces. Officer involved shootings appear to be on the rise. Today’s law enforcement officers face a multitude of dangers in their everyday duties that rival the threat of getting shot. For example: Foot pursuit, vehicle pursuits, making an arrest, traffic control, heat stroke, Stress, duty equipment and bio-hazard exposure / sun exposure. Officers’ are exposed to these dangers on a daily basis. They wear bulletproof vests and heavy belts containing batons, pepper spray, handcuffs, a radio, and a handgun. The equipment they wear can weigh up to 20 pounds which puts a tremendous amount of stress on the back, hips, knees, and feet. They must also get into and out of a patrol vehicle up to 50 times a day wearing this equipment. As a result many officers injure themselves to the point of being unable to work in law enforcement. Officers are also exposed to extreme temperatures for extended periods of time. Whether they are conducting traffic control at an accident scene in 100 degree heat or providing crime scene security in freezing temperatures, they are at the mercy of the elements. Most time they have not had time to stop at the store or the station before they are sent to the call so they can be standing out there without the proper protection or hydration they might need. In addition to the physical dangers officers must deal with they also must always be ready for the worse. This can place a significant amount of physical and mental stress on the officer. They must be aware of their environment at all times. Officers need to remain vigilant and prepared for any situation that develops. Rarely does an officer have time to fully prepare for the emergency call for service. They have to rely on their training and make split second decisions based on an ever changing set of circumstances. In the United States between 1993 and 2002, 636 police officers were murdered and 574, 990 were victims of assault. In 2002 alone, on average, an officer was killed every 66 hours and was the victim of an assault every 9 minutes (Federal Bureau of Investigation [FBI], 2002 Repeated analyses show that American police experience violent crime at much higher rates than any other occupational group. Between 1993 and 1999, for example, the rate of violent victimization was 261 for every 1,000 police officers, about twice the rate for taxicab drivers, the next most victimized group. Earlier research in the state of California covering the period between 1979 and 1981 provided similar findings, with the homicide rate for police officers pegged at 20.8 per 100,000, the highest of all occupational groups and 10 times greater than the average for men . Furthermore, these statistics reflect only officer victimization and do not include the much broader exposure to violent criminal acts perpetrated on the public that police officers witness. Hostility and violence are such integral parts of the American police officer's day-to-day activities that the work is often likened to being at war or characterized as civilian combat.

Despite a growing body of empirical evidence, the decade of police stress research was guided as much by folklore as evidence. By the mid-1980s, obvious limitations with the danger-stress link and, for that matter, the entire police stress hypothesis were being documented. It became increasingly clear that levels of danger faced by the police and the magnitude of the resulting stress responses were exaggerated by officers, researchers, and the public. For example, Somodevilla (1978) claimed that "it is an accepted fact that a police officer is under stress and pressure unequaled by any other profession" but did not offer any empirical evidence to support this contention. The experience of violence as role congruent with the police mandate is likely the single most important variable mediating potentially...
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