Occupational Stress

When the subject of work-related stress in policing is raised, attention unsurprisingly focuses on traumatic incidents. The pressures of law enforcement put officers at risk for high blood pressure, insomnia, increased levels of destructive stress hormones, heart problems, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and suicide. Certainly, police officers are exposed to a number of emergencies, from shootings to high-speed pursuits to delivering death notices (Brown & Campbell, 1994). These are what are known as occasional stressors. They are the traumatic incidents that a police officer can encounter on any given day at any given time while on duty (Brown & Campbell, 1990).

PTSD is a unique set of symptoms brought about by exposure to a traumatic event that compromises the physical integrity or life of an individual, which also produces fear (American Psychiatric Association, 2000). Many work related exposures of police officers are often characterized as traumatic compared to other occupations. Police officers as the most stressful generally rank exposures perceived as disturbing or traumatic. Law enforcement officers are confronted daily with the reality of trauma.

While officers on a daily basis are responding to a wide variety of different crimes which can vary anywhere from suicides to child abuse, police officers are very much so open to all sorts of factors that can precipitate a traumatic response. For example, many police officers face possible life and death situations every day (Hartley, Violanti, Fekedulegn, Andrew, & Burchfiel, 2007). Those who do have a higher chance of PTSD like symptoms. Being said, additional studies found that job experience such as length of occupation and the numbers of traumatic incidents were a major quality to take into effect in police stress.   

When episodic stressors do occur, law enforcement agencies generally provide supportive resources to help officers deal with the effects. In that regard, many departments have mandatory policies that require psychological services for those involved in deadly incidents. This is in response to the tendency of officers to display the ‘John Wayne Syndrome’, which is seeking to preserve a macho ego image and avoid, appearing weak by denying any personal impact of traumatic events (Reiner, 1985).  Although the term ‘episodic’ itself implies, such incidents are short-term and or infrequent occurrences.

Overall, it is evident that there is a tremendous level of stress revolving around police work and policing. It is something that some can receive help for, but also something that will never be totally wiped clean of.

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