Trauma in Law Enforcement

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Trauma in Law Enforcement

All police officers experience a critical incident at one point in their careers. Each person handles the stress from these situations differently. For some officers, the traumatic incident causes minimal disruption in their daily routine and is considered nothing short of an unfortunate situation they have gained valuable knowledge from. For many others, however, the stress of these events becomes debilitating and intervention is necessary. This paper researched the stress police officers and other first responders are faced with as a result of critical incidents, particularly Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The method of obtaining information involved primarily researching data from books, professional journals and government sources. It was concluded that the toll on the physical and emotional health of officers experiencing stress and stress related illnesses such as PTSD is enormous and probably avoidable if the proper pre-incident and post-incident services are available. It was also determined that how law enforcement agencies approach critical incidents can prevent or lessen significant stress reactions in its personnel. It is incumbent upon police administrators to prepare for critical events and provide their personnel with the training and services necessary for a positive outcome of the situation.

It is widely acknowledged that all first responders will be exposed to circumstances and incidents of a critical nature, which could evoke adverse emotional reactions and affect their job performance, health, decision-making and family life. It is also recognized that most responses to the potentially detrimental effects of stress induced by traumatic incidents can be dealt with successfully when identified early and referred to the appropriate care. Incredible amounts of time and effort are spent on background investigations by Law Enforcement agencies during the hiring process. Police applicants are exposed to months of written, oral, psychological and agility testing as well as a physical examination. Agencies desire the most physically and emotionally fit people to endure the hours of demanding instruction at the police academies. If so many resources are used to insure the recruit’s safety and success, it would follow that all agencies should put the same effort into preventing the destructive effects of stress for the veteran officer brought on by years of exposure to human suffering and seeing society at its worst. While many agencies do have psychologists, chaplains and employee assistance programs available, the services have traditionally been utilized reactively. The adaptation of a proactive stress identification and management training program in addition to a critical incident management and debriefing program would provide the care services necessary to insure the emotional and physical well being of the personnel BACKGROUND AND SIGNIFICANCE

Stress is a response to something in the environment; as something in our environment changes, we change as well. Mitchell and Bray (1990), observed, “Life without stress is impossible” (p. 3). Positive or helpful stress is called eustress and helps us to be creative, productive and carry out tasks we need to perform. It also helps us to make the life style changes that preserve our happiness. Distress is a condition that has a negative impact on our lives in terms of our physical and emotional health, our employment and our families. There are three different types of stressors: environmental, psychosocial and personality stressors. Examples of environmental stressors include noise, temperature extremes, and quick decision-making. Psychosocial stressors are comprised of conflicts with family members and coworkers and involve any contact that is made with other people. Personality stressors include guilt over not doing a ‘perfect’ job, our response to criticism, our need to be liked and the inability...
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