Policing Is an Extremely Stressful Job

Information

Stress is a feeling of emotional or physical tension, and it can come from any event or thought that makes a person feel frustrated, angry, or nervous. Stress is the reaction the body makes to a challenge or demand. Work-related stress is the response individuals may have when faced with work requirements that are not aligned with their skills and abilities and which challenge their ability to cope. It can happen in many working circumstances, but oftentimes, it is made worse when the workers feel they are getting little support from supervisors and colleagues (World Health Organization 2020). Stress builds from unavoidable pressure at work, which, when excessive, leads to employees’ health and low work output.

Work-associated stress can be due to poor organization, lack of control over the processes, poor management, and bad working conditions. The most stressful type of work is that which puts excessive pressure that is not matched to the worker’s abilities or where the employee has no choice or control (World Health Organization 2020). The workers are likely to experience more stress when they do what is beyond their capacities or when they have little understanding of how to do the work. Police service around the world is one type of job in which employees, in many instances, have little control or say of what they do. The officers cannot question any order given to them but work in strict compliance with the instructions issued by their seniors. Globally, police officers are required to face physical dangers and risk their lives all the time when protecting citizens and their properties from robbers, thieves, or armed criminal gangs. Even when they feel uneasy about the nature of the work they are deployed to do, they have no choice but to perform the job.

Police work incorporates stressful demands like dealing with human problems, abuses, and life-threatening or death decisions. There is also the burden of strict legal norms placed on the officers as they execute their duties (Violanti et al., 2017). Policing stress may come from job content which includes work schedules, shift work, long working hours, court work, traumatic events, and threats to both physical and psychological health. Additionally, officers may get organizational stress due to bureaucracy at work and relationships with coworkers (p. 643). These sources of stress oftentimes expose the officers to suffering and even cause some of them to die. Stress among police officers, if not put under control, can result in effects such as post-traumatic health disorders.

This paper agrees with the statement by Baek et al. (2021) that police officers’ job is stressful. The focus of the paper will be on critical analysis of the literature, which led the researchers to make this conclusion. The basis for this analysis will be literature from Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Guyana, and the United States of America. Lastly, the paper will present five possible interventions that can help in alleviating stress among police officers.

Factors Making Policy Stressful

In the recent past, there have been rising cases of stress among police officers because of the demanding nature of their occupation. Their stress levels have been confounded by the present traits of modern society, like uncertainty and dangers due to terrorism threats and the proliferation of firearms in the hands of criminals (Queirós et al., 2020). The effect of this factor is the negative impact on officers’ mental and physical health, poor performance, and poor interactions with civilians (p. 1). Further, mental health has become a serious problem at the places of work as it is the cause of depression, anxiety, exhaustion, and suicidal tendencies among many officers.

Terrorism threats and extremism have been grown, especially in the U.S. The Department of Homeland Security has released a new National Terrorism Advisory System (NTAS) Bulletin on the current heightened threat environment in the United States (NTAS Bulletin, 2021). The Homeland continues to face a broad and demanding threat environment in the run-up to and after the 20th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks, as well as religious holidays that we believe could serve as a spark for targeted violence. Domestic terrorists, individuals, and groups engaged in grievance-based violence and threats inspired or motivated by overseas terrorists and other hostile foreign forces are among the risks. These individuals are increasingly relying on online forums to preach violent extremist narratives and encourage violent behavior.

Foreign and domestic threat actors, such as foreign intelligence services, international terrorist groups, and violent domestic extremists, continue to introduce, amplify, and disseminate violent narratives online. Terrorism actors have called for violence against elected officials, political representatives, government facilities, law enforcement, religious communities, or commercial facilities, and perceived ideologically opposed individuals (NTAS Bulletin, 2021). On many online forums, there are also ongoing, non-specific appeals for violence related to Digital Video Effect (DVE) ideologies or conspiracy theories on apparent election fraud and purported restoration.

The Operational Police Stress Questionnaire (PSQ-Op) and other questionnaires were used in the study to determine the levels of operational stress, burnout, and distress among Portuguese police personnel. The majority of the studies had sample sizes of less than 500 individuals, and they were predominantly conducted in the previous decade in the United States and Brazil, but also in another 24 countries, demonstrating the breadth of interest in this area. The PSQ-Op, as well as the Spanish Burnout Inventory and the Kessler Psychological Distress Scale, were used to assess 2057 police officers from the National Portuguese Police, a group that patrols metropolitan areas. The factorial analysis identified two aspects, referred to as social and work difficulties, that were linked to distress and burnout assessments.

The significance of interpretative processes and organizational elements in mediating the relationship between terrorist dangers and stress is examined by Paton and Violanti (2006). These difficulties are examined in the context of how officers’ reactions to terror events evolve as they move through the alert and mobilization, response, and reintegration phases of their involvement. The implications of each for actual methods that police organizations could use are discussed. Professionals in the protective services field are on the front lines when it comes to terrorism. Following a description of the criteria needed to apply risk management to this part of police work, the talk moves on to identifying risk sources. These are barely discernible from the event itself (for example, flying a plane into a building). Rather, they reflect risks such as biological/radiological agents, body handling, cultural aspects of death and dying, terrorist motivation, and coping to the fear legacy that terror incidents leave behind.

Pressure of Responsibility

According to Purba and Demou (2019), the main factor that makes police work stressful is that police officers constantly encounter circumstances when they feel pressure from the responsibility of protecting the lives of civilians. The officers in performing their duties are constantly under scrutiny from society, and they are expected to be professional all the time. For example, some officers go through pressure by trying to be perfect in their work or fear of public backlash when they carry out their duties. There is also the demand for them to be alert most of the time (p. 12). Police officers do get discouraged when they do not get recognition from civilians whom they protect (p. 12). The publications that were included in the study were evaluated critically and for bias risk. Specific mental health outcomes performed narrative and evidence syntheses.

High Risk of Victimization

The next factor that increases the stress level of the police workers is the high risk of victimization. In Trinidad and Tobago, according to Johnson et al. (2019), police officers in the country are confronted by crime more oftentimes than civilians; thus, they perceive their risk of criminal victimization as higher. Additionally, working in dangerous surroundings in Tobago is stressful for policemen and women and could likely increase their fear of being victimized. The final analysis of the study conducted by Watson and Pino (2019) found that officers perceived that they and their families were at high risk of criminal victimization. Thus, they were worried about themselves or family members becoming victimized, so police officers were often engaged in strategies to reduce this risk.

Poor Management and Working Conditions

Research to understand the complexities of police stress and its consequences, which also sought to give detailed work-related stress in the Jamaica police force, was conducted by Nelson (2017). The objectives of the study were to investigate sources of organizational stress among police officers. The findings revealed that poor working conditions, including poor management practices, were the primary sources of stress amongst police in Jamaica. Poor working conditions and poor management practices refer to the organizational stress cases. Overall, the findings of the study handled by Nelson (2017) support the fact that organizational pressures are major risk factors for police personnel.

In many Caribbean nations, crime rates and issues related to the drug trade, arms smuggling, and human trafficking are higher. There is also gang violence that contributes to homicide in this part of the world. This high crime rate which was a precursor to a difficult working environment and exposure to harsh working conditions like shift work and overtime necessitated stress among police officers. Likewise, too many administrative responsibilities, changes in policies, and limitations in the organizational setting of the police service were seen as possible causes of stress.

Officers are rarely involved in the development of administrative policies and procedures, which can add to the stress. Patrol cars with only one officer cause anxiety and a diminished sense of security. Even during off-duty hours, internal investigation techniques provide the impression of being observed and distrusted. Officers frequently believe they have fewer rights than the criminals they arrest. Police stress can also be exacerbated by a lack of rewards for good job performance, poor training, and excessive paperwork.

Excessive Overtime

Beshears (2017), in his publication, highlighted that police officers in the U.S. are under continuous stress, even though they might deny this fact. By using a report from the National Institute of Justice, the study has revealed that one of the main factors that contribute to the high-stress level among police officers is excessive overtime (Beshears 2017). Long and unpredictable work hours, shift work, and poor sleep is all factors that contribute to overworked police officers in the United States (Vila, 2006). These factors are likely to play a role in the increased rates of illness and death, as well as psychological problems and family dysfunction, seen among police officers. Officer fatigue-related impairments in performance and decision-making might result in unanticipated societal and economic costs. In order to understand the reasons and implications of police lengthy work hours, data was gathered from the literature and government data, as well as talks with sleep researchers, police executives, and union officials (Vila, 2006). Long shifts and long hours put a strain on police officers’ health, safety, and performance. Understaffing as a result of demographic trends and increased threats to homeland security aggravates the situation.

Effects of Policing Stress

Stress has many adverse consequences for police officers around the world. They could be at the risk of becoming emotionally detached, suspicious, having excessive aggressiveness, and having decreased work performance (Kukić et al., 2021). In some cases, the officer might resort to alcohol and substances abuse, some may resign from work, and others may experience marital or family-related problems. A study conducted by Kukić et al. (2021) assessed differences in occupational stress in two different European counties and one Middle East country. The researchers sampled 130 participants male aged 36 ± eight years; 121 male participants from Russia aged 22 ± four years; and 100 male participants from Lebanon aged 36 ± six years (Kukić et al. 2021). In total, 351 respondents took part in the study.

The respondents completed a 20 itemized questionnaire on Operational Police Stress (Kukić et al., 2021). The questions were averaged and translated as low (=3, 5) (Kukić et al., 2021). The researchers then run an analysis of covariance using age as the covariate with Bonferroni post hoc analysis structure per county. The results revealed a significant difference with lower occupational stress in Russia (p < 0.001) and Lebanon (p = 0.003) than Serbian police officers (Kukić et al., 2021). On the other hand, Operational Police Stress differed per country, with six found for Russia and Lebanon officers and 3 for Serbian officers (Kukić et al., 2021). Additionally, more work-linked stress was higher for the younger officer in Russia, whereas more social-associated stress was higher for older Serbian officers (Kukić et al., 2021). The results demonstrated occupational, organizational, and external factors as catalysts for police stress.

Numerous researches indicate the relationship between job stress and health problems. Hyunin Baek, Na-Yeun Choi, & Randy Seepersad (2020) researched how job stress affects burnout and health-related problems among police officers. Their study focused on whether burnout was a catalyst for an association between stress and other health problems (Baek et al., 2020). They use a diverse sample of respondents of police from all the eight police station districts in Trinidad, making up a sample size of 331 police officers. The researchers then administered a self-report questionnaire to the participants. Structural equation modeling (SEM) analysis was used to assess the relationship between job stresses, burnout, and health-related issues. The findings revealed that officers’ job stress increased their burnout and health-related problems (Baek et al., 2020). It was proved that burnout is the mediating variable between job stress and health-related issues. Simply put, stress could lead to burnout, which causes health-related problems.

In Jamaica, there have been reported cases of officers encountering organizational and societal stressors when working in high-crime and low-income areas. The exposure to these stressors in scenarios where the police officers get very limited support from their seniors or supervisors compromises their emotional well-being. For example, a research cross-sectional research was conducted to investigate the relationship between burnout (exhaustion, depersonalization, and personal accomplishment) and suicide mindset among police in Jamaica by Wray & Jarrett (2019). The study sampled 305 police officers from five major urban divisions who completed two self-administered questionnaires. The findings indicated a statistically significant association between exhaustion and suicidal mindset with a correlation coefficient (r =.17, p < 0.01). There was also a significant relationship between depersonalization and suicidal mindset with (r =.18, p <.01). However, the personal accomplishment was not correlated with a suicidal mindset with (p >.01), so any association could be due to chance. The study concluded that implementing programs that offer access to stress management could reduce burnout and eliminate the risk for suicides.

Some studies have shown that the officers in the U.S., like in other countries, do resist the temptation of openly revealing what they go through for fear of being victimized. To build on these cases, Craddock and Telesco (2021) carried out research in the U.S. to determine the harmful outcomes of stress on the mental health of police officers. More specifically, their study assessed the correlation between years of services by the officers and changes in worldviews and perception. Further, the work examined the relationship between repeated exposure to critical events and experiencing post-traumatic symptoms. Craddock and Telesco (2021) sampled 408 police offers in the service at that time and those who served before across the United States. A cumulative career traumatic stress questionnaire was administered to the respondents. The article indicated a significant association between years of service and traumatic events, traumatic events and post-traumatic stress symptoms, and traumatic events and officers’ perception of others (p. 2). These findings correlate with other literature mentioned already that exposure to harmful or traumatic events while on duty could negatively impact the mental and physical health of officers. The stress symptoms among the American law enforcers worsen when they think they are not likely to get any help or support on these problems from their seniors.

In September 2014, a volcanic eruption at Mount Ontake in Japan claimed 58 lives, and people were injured. This calamity forced the Japanese government to deploy a rescue team of the Japan Self-Defense Forces, the police, and the fire department. Due to the complicity of the search and rescue activities, all the groups carrying out the mission were at risk of secondary disaster. Some officers developed altitude sickness and hypothermia by the end of the rescue operation.

After the operation, many police officers developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms. This prompted Kamijo et al. (2020) to lead a team in conducting a health survey on disasters associated with Mount Ontake rescue operations. The study examined the association between the peritraumatic situation signs among the officers affected. The researchers sampled 213 police officers who participated in the rescue work. Data collected from the officers who had Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Signs (PTSD) were analyzed using a logistic regression model.

Analyzing the relationship between participants’ symptoms severity and their peritraumatic issues like post-disaster stress relief allows identifying the effect of traumatic experience on the stress level associated with policy work. The study results showed that the severity of the symptoms was related to more than seven cumulative days at work (odds ratio [OR] = 2.47, 1.21 – 5.06) (Kamijo et al. 2020). It was also revealed that there was drinking alcohol or smoking after disaster-support work (p. 7). In addition, supporting the victims’ families with ([OR] = 1.99, 1.19 – 4.21) was related to symptom severity for officers (p. 8). The research findings indicated that the number of days of disaster-assist work and stress-relief conduct correlated to the extremity of PTSD signs.

Not only does stress contribute to the physical ailments stated above, but it also adds to emotional issues. According to certain studies, police personnel commits suicide at a higher rate than the general population. Divorce rates among cops are exceptionally high, according to most investigations. Although some argue that studies of police divorce have overstated the rate, interview surveys show that police stress lowers the quality of family life. Police jobs, according to the majority of officers interviewed, limits nonpolice friendships, interfere with arranging family social occasions, and create a terrible public image. Furthermore, they bring work stresses home with them, and their spouses are concerned about their safety.

Interventions that can Alleviate Police Officers Stress

A body of literature has shown that law enforcers are at a high risk of being stressed because of the nature of the work they do. In their normal daily duties, police get exposed to violence and human suffering, heavy physical work demands hectic work schedules; they get provoked and do receive little support from their seniors, friend, and even family. These demands normally make the officers stressed, anxious, exhaustion and lead to health problems. The consequences of policing stress are negative on the officers’ physical and mental health and their work and personal lives. This section of the paper will focus on possible interventions that can help the officers overcome or manage stress effectively.

Officers should Speak their Traumatic Experiences

Stressed police officers should be encouraged to talk freely about their issues. This could assist them in obtaining guidance on how to seek expert aid. They should not be afraid to tell their coworkers, acquaintances, classmates, or even family members that they suffer from stress (Sadulski 2018). This is the only way they will gain trust and confidence in dealing with their issues. It is another approach for officers to set up a successful peer support program at work.

Police officers’ stress and trauma on the job can substantially impact their health and well-being. Police officers require psychological support to maintain their mental health and perform their duties properly. On the other hand, officers are frequently afraid to seek counseling (Papazoglou & Tuttle, 2018). Officers may believe that therapists have little experience with police work. Furthermore, psychologists’ inquiries into personal and early life experiences may be misunderstood as attempts to patronize officers, resulting in disparagement of police officers’ identities as persons who serve and protect. That is why it is critical to properly establish psychiatric help so that police personnel can discuss their painful experiences.

Supervisors Training

Stress detection and management training for senior police officers at the supervisory level should be essential. This is crucial for them to recognize negative stress reactions or indicators of chronic stress in their juniors. Clinical interventions employing approaches such as psychiatric therapy and interventions to strengthen coping mechanisms based on training and diverse ways ranging from transcendental meditation to exercise are often separated into two groups for police officers and recruits.

One of the most common stress management programs is teaching police officers how to spot stress signs and improve coping skills. Patterson (2014) discusses various ways, such as positive self-talk, deep breathing, anchoring, cognitive desensitization and rehearsal, meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, biofeedback and visualization, stress debriefing, goal setting, time management. The supervisors’ training also covered physical fitness, critical incident stress management (CISM), progressive relaxation, eye movement desensitization, and visual-motor behavior rehearsal (VMBR).

Early diagnosis will allow supervisors to provide help and resources to troubled officers, such as reducing their workload, giving them time off, and even organizing professional therapy. Supervisors who are educated to recognize symptoms that their officers are struggling with stress will assist them in improving their performance on the job (Sadulski 2018). They might also help those officers avoid more psychological, physical, or family problems. Furthermore, supervisors should meet with their juniors regularly to assess how they feel about their work.

Pretraumatic Intervention

Administrators should have a policy strategy that makes it mandatory for recruits to be exposed to high-stress circumstances. Pretraumatic intervention induces them to stress under controlled conditions (Murray 2020). This should probably be part of their training program where instructors can increase stress levels as the recruits learn and master the tricks to overcome. This tactic uses a combination of cognitive, behavioral, and human learning methods to target stressors among the officers. The method educates the officers to work through the difficulties. This strategy teaches coping methods, like problem-solving, autogenic, and breaking retraining methods. The training also offers tactics such as a plan to control severe emotions, reduce physiological activation, and prevent dissociative reactions when stressed. Officers must also be trained to be mindful to maintain a strong awareness of their present realities and live in the moment.

Peritraumatic Intervention

Properly integrated peritraumatic strategies help those affected reduce the negative impact of trauma-related stress during traumatic situations. They assist the victim in maintaining normal operational functionality. These techniques are frequently used by those serving the military and professional athletes frequently to help them slowly breathe, focus, gain control, and manage stress (Murray 2020). One gets a balancing effect on the autonomic nervous system through parasympathetic activation. This improves vagal activity, thus helping reduce psychophysiological arousal and suppressing sympathetic activity and stress response.

Psychological Capital Intervention

In case some officers develop stress incidences wherever they are deployed on duty, the police administrators should offer psychological first aid by providing practical care and support to assess their needs and concerns. The managers should also listen to officers if they are willing to talk, comfort officers, help them feel calm, and protect them from further harm. Police administrators should make efforts to check with those who still help after they were given critical incident stress need debrief (CISD) (Murray 2020). Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms might appear weeks or months after the incident in most cases. The officers should be taken through Mindful strategy activities because it reduces the negative effects of PTSD.

Raising officers’ psychological capital (PsyCap) positively affects their health and reduces stress levels. PsyCap is a person’s positive state of development aided by persistence toward objectives (Murray 2020). It includes hope, efficacy, resilience, and optimism. These constructs of PsyCap offer people resources and mechanisms that promote good health. They have a strong positive correlation with desirable attitudes, behaviors, and performance. They offer employees who are showing signs of giving up improved psychological well-being. PsyCap triggers cognitive, affective, conative, and social mechanisms for happiness, and good health boosts effort, motivation, and persistence.

PsyCap elevates the conative system through agentic thinking and effective goal pursuit, which necessitates an intentional action and a sense of control. A social process may happen through rapid attraction, increased associations, and improved networks and connections that positivity can create in people. The theoretical process involving PsyCap is key for employees in today’s workplace for helping them stay happy and have good health. It should be used by most police administers. This technique can help them create hope among the officers by creating objective-oriented paths through clarifying their mission statements (Murray 2020). It can also help then define career development planning strategic and succession planning, create clarity for future activities, and learn the SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely) goal setting concept to become self-guided.

Conclusion

Policing is an extremely stressful job, considering that officers’ work is extremely demanding. This has been confounded by the present traits of modern society like uncertainty and dangers due to terrorism threats and the proliferation of firearms in the hands of criminals. Officers get stressed due to inherent work issues, internal police practices and policies, and the internal stress confronting individual officers. There are also eternal stresses stemming from the criminal justice system and society. Occupationally, police officers encounter stressful circumstances like exposure to people suffering, threats to their own lives, trying to control themselves when provoked, and the responsibility of protecting the lives of civilians. Organizational practices and policies are another source of stress to police officers worldwide. At the same time, external stressors for police officers arise in the form of court appearances that interfere with officers’ work assignments and lack of enough sleeping time. Further, negative publicity, allegations of police brutality, racism, and distortion of facts about incidents involving the officers are key catalysts for stress.

Stress has many consequences for police officers around the world. Fundamentally, the officers could be become emotionally detached, suspicious, have excessive aggressiveness, and decreased work performance. In some cases, the officer might resort to alcohol and substances abuse, some may resign from work, and others may experience marital or family-related problems. In addition, job stress could increase burnout and health-related problems among police officers; that is, stress could lead to burnout which in turn causes health-related problems. Exhaustion, which is a function of stress, could lure victims into committing suicide. Stress levels among police officers increase when they think of not getting support from their peers, supervisors, and family members.

There are a number of interventions that could help offices overcome stress. Firstly, the officers should be encouraged to speak openly about their problems and seek professional counseling without fear. Police administrators should get trained on stress detection and management courses to help them recognize adverse stress reactions or signs of chronic stress from their juniors. This will allow the supervisors to offer troubled officer support and resources, including a reduction in workload, giving them time off, and even arranging for them professional counseling. Administrators within police forces should try to align the responsibilities with the ability of each officer, as well as give incentives to motivate them.

It is also imperative for recruits to get exposed to high-stress situations training, which induces them to stress under controlled conditions. Those who are stressed should be exposed to peritraumatic strategies to reduce the negative impact of trauma-related stress during traumatic situations. This strategy copying method, like problem-solving, autogenic, and breaking retraining methods, are taught. Lastly, those officers who were victims to stress at work should be given psychological first aid and provided practical care and support, assessing their needs and concerns, comforting, and helping them to cope with traumatic experiences.

Because of the high rates of depression, anxiety, burnout, and even suicide among police officers, mental health in the workplace have become a concern. It is consequently critical to monitor stress and burnout levels on a frequent basis in order to improve occupational health. Due to the existing characteristics of modern cultures, being a police officer appears to be highly demanding and stressful work. For a police officer, these qualities include the constant fear of terrorist attacks, the rise in firearm violence in metropolitan areas, a lack of human and material resources, team or supervisory challenges, citizen and societal criticism, and a lack of understanding from family or friends.

Abbreviations

  • NTAS – National Terrorism Advisory System
  • DVE – Digital Video Effect
  • PSQ-Op – The Operational Police Stress Questionnaire
  • SEM – Structural Equation Modeling
  • CISM – Critical Incident Stress Management
  • VMBR – Visual-Motor Behavior Rehearsal
  • CISD – Critical Incident Stress need Debrief
  • PTSD – Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • PsyCap – Psychological Capital
  • SMART – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely

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LawBirdie. "Policing Is an Extremely Stressful Job." May 21, 2023. https://lawbirdie.com/policing-is-an-extremely-stressful-job/.