Stress Associated With Law Enforcement

Stress Associated With Law Enforcement

The Law enforcement profession involves the dealing with of extremely stressful situations. Some of these situations may even pose a grave danger to the life of the persons involved; and moreover, such challenging and potentially hazardous situations may arise without any warning or premonition. The person who takes up this profession must be prepared to face such life threatening situations[1].

Therefore, it can be surmised that the profession of law enforcement is a demanding and challenging profession and that the persons in this profession are prone to severe psychological stress. Many of the officers in this profession have suffered from psychological syndromes, due to the mounting stress, while carrying out their duties. The law enforcement personnel receive stress from two major sources, such as from the outside environment and from within the administration of the law enforcement department, in which they work[2].

Inexperienced officers and undercover agents are more vulnerable to psychological disturbances. In order to cope up with the demands of their demanding profession, they must have had experience in taking part in the so called undercover activities. In general, the comparatively inexperienced agents are first employed on long term investigative tasks, before being sent on tasks that entail imminent danger. Those detective agents who suffer from psychological stress disorders are very much likely to develop symptoms that are similar to the medical profiles of psychological patients. Their work conditions demand of the undercover agents to adopt the same lifestyle and social behavior as that of the offenders whom they are placing under surreptitious surveillance[3].

This activity is termed as role – generalization; and while indulging in this activity, undercover agents have to employ the language and other peculiar characteristics of the criminal groups that they are infiltrating. Such adoption of mannerisms and character traits is exceedingly likely to continue in their interpersonal relations within the department, albeit without their knowledge. The underlying objective of such undercover investigation is to neutralize criminals, by establishing good relationships with them[4].

            All the same, a number of research studies have revealed that the agents acting in undercover operations find it difficult to enact such impersonating roles. According to Band and Sheehan of the Behavioral Science Unit of the FBI Academy, undercover agents face considerable difficulty in playing their roles, due to the fact that they lack the necessary commitment towards their work[5].

 Some agents suffer from harrowing personal problems and others develop personal relationships with criminal suspects. Over – identification with suspects is a major problem for some undercover agents, and such identification may induce them to lose their personal identity; in addition, some agents fear that they may be exposed to these criminals. The other problems faced by these undercover agents include technical difficulties, interagency cooperation, recovery time lapses, contextual problems and undesired and unsuitable role playing[6].

            In some cases undercover agents happen to indulge in heavy drinking, subsequent to the completion of their operations with criminal groups. Some agents had developed immoral relationships. Furthermore, it is not true that all criminal suspects have only bad qualities, and some of the suspects could possibly be of an intellectual disposition of mind and possess several good qualities. Moreover, undercover agents face a major problem when they have to deal with a suspect who has children. In such situations, undercover agents find it difficult to frame cases against the criminal suspect. In addition, over – identification with the criminal suspect could lead to the loss of the personal identity of the agent. If the agent fears that he would be discovered by the suspect, then the former is liable to undergo intense stress[7].

Most agents fear to wear a wire in undercover operations for fear of discovery. Emotional recovery is an indispensable trait for undercover agents, because it enables them to recover from work related stress and frustrations. If there is more than one agency involved in the work, then the stress to the agents is much greater, than if only one agency were to be involved. This because there will be a difference in the procedures of the various agencies. In certain situations individuals will have to conceal their ethnic or cultural background, in order to work in the joint operations with other agencies. In such situations, agents are likely to undergo psychological stress disorders[8].

            Law enforcement officers undergo stress from a number of sources, for instance they have to countenance considerable administrative stress from within their departments. Moreover, they have to face organizational demands like working in shifts and working for extended periods of time. Police officers are vulnerable to outside pressures such as violence and physical suffering. Furthermore, they have complained, on several occasions, about new kinds of stress, whilst implementing law and order in the community. In addition, some officers have reported being stressful, while performing community policing duty[9].

As such police officials are vulnerable to stress that arises from negative publicity against them from the members of the society. Moreover, police departments suffer from meager resources. The various stress reduction programs attempt to address the needs of the family members of law enforcement personnel. This is due to the fact that family members act as stress reducing agents and provide the best possible support for these personnel. It is much simpler for family members to understand the difficulties faced by law enforcement personnel and act as an emotional support to them[10].

            Law enforcement is a challenging and stressful profession. The officials who have made this thankless task as their career face different types of threats and dangers while carrying out their day to day work. Their life is frequently in danger in the line of duty. For instance, in the US, once in every fifty – four hours a law enforcement officer is killed. Their deaths are not reported by the media even though they are killed in the line of duty. Their profession is stress ridden and this stress constitutes the hidden enemy in their work, which literally kills them at the end of the day[11].

This stress has a negative effect on their personal relationship with their family members, as is borne out by the fact that the parties involved in many a divorce case are law enforcement officers. A number of law enforcement officers have had to envisage unhappy marriages due to the stress in their profession. The rate of divorce among law enforcement personnel is five times greater than that which is obtaining in the other professions. The strained personal relationships induce these officers to indulge in the over consumption of alcohol, and some officer even resort to the abuse of drugs, while some others indulge in domestic violence[12].

A majority of officers in the law enforcement profession experience sleep disorders and disruption in sleep patterns. They also experience altered eating habits, which ultimately lead to malnutrition. Some of these personnel suffer from psychological problems such as paranoia, fear, anxiety, anger and severe depression. Officers in the law enforcement department are susceptible to post traumatic stress syndromes. Due to the continuous work related stress, the psychological defense mechanisms in the body become less efficient over a period of time[13].

The result of this deterioration is that these officers develop long-term post stress psychological disorders. In fact, several incidents have been reported, wherein law enforcement officers have committed suicides with the handguns provided to them by their respective departments to preserve order and to enforce law in the society. This unhappy and undesirable trend has been witnessed in the law enforcement profession of several countries[14].

            International mortality statistics indicate that law enforcement officers are significantly vulnerable to suicide and premature death. Their physical disease countering mechanisms have been over whelmed due to stress and this makes them susceptible to many diseases. Research studies in this area have revealed that law enforcement officers die at an earlier age, in comparison to other professions. For instance, they are vulnerable to diabetes, colon cancer and cardio vascular diseases. The major factor that accelerates their death is stress which is part and parcel of their daily professional life[15].

A police department can be termed as a department that is isolated from the general population. The officers in that department have become remote from the rest of society in many major aspects, and they have to keep at a distance from outsiders. They do not like to talk with the other members of society; and this tendency is so marked that police officers do not encourage discussions about their shortcomings even in the presence of their close friends. However, this trend is not seen in the other emergency service departments[16].

As such, police officers often prefer to work either alone or with a single regular partner. Firefighters and paramedic personnel work with a group of other workers in a concerted manner, and their training includes team work. In addition, their minds are attuned to work with teams. This is not the case with police officers, who consequently form an insular group. Thus, the result has been that it is very difficult for councilors or clinicians to identify the cause of stress or depression among police officers[17].

Police officers generally discharge their legitimate duties with responsibility and dedication. They are expected to exhibit exemplary valor and courage in the line of duty. However, the stresses, pressures and challenges that arise from the discharge of their duty, at times prove very difficult to assimilate. Every individual has some breaking point, and police officers are no exception to this general rule. If the stress and pressure go beyond that breaking point, then there will be disastrous effects on their mental and physical health[18].

Hence, it is common for many police officers to experience the effects of psychological trauma. These adverse effects are likely to cause accidents or compel them to commit homicide. Some officers find it difficult to withstand the stress and to commit suicide as an answer to their unbearable suffering. Some even go to the extent of shooting down their colleagues or innocent civilians. Still other police officers develop long term post traumatic stress disorders or PTSD[19].

The symptoms of PTSD are reduced responsiveness, loss of memory, obsessive compulsory disorders, irritation, hyper-vigilance, loss of concentration, change of sleeping patterns and sleep disorders, anger, anxiety, depression, paranoia, withdrawal from society and drug and alcohol abuse. In some cases, nervous breakdowns take place due to the overwhelming stress engendered by this profession. Many police officers develop situational adaptivity; in order to deal with work related stress and challenges. This in turn, serves to stimulate their defense mechanism. In such cases, they can avoid depression, feelings of displacement, isolation and other physiological and psychological disorders[20].

The main reason for all these disorders is the insular nature of these personnel. These personnel tend to live in their own closed community, which can be called as cop culture. They center their activities exclusively on their work, and do not get involved in any social activity. In addition, law enforcement personnel develop a work mentality, in which they feel that their job is their life and that their ultimate goal is nothing than their career. For this reason many police officers concentrate on their career by excluding themselves from society and relationships[21].

Several studies have disclosed the fact that in police officers in the US, who participate in shooting operations are more vulnerable to acute psychological problems in the long run. They develop a feeling of guilt and generally get themselves transferred from the shooting force, within seven years of having shot an individual. The data in this context reveals that nearly seventy percent of police officers in the shooting forces had left the forces, within a short period of such shooting incidents. Furthermore, the rate of hospitalization of police officers is five times greater than that of the general public; and the mortality rate and the rate of premature death cases among police officers occupy the third place in that category[22].

It is a general notion that police personnel’s marriages are extremely likely to end abruptly. However, there is no empirical evidence to prove this conjecture. There is no high rate of divorce among police personnel[23]. The suicide rate amongst the police is higher than that of the general population. As per the official records in this regard, there are nearly three hundred suicides annually, in which policemen had used their own handguns to bring about their demise[24].

Most of the suicides had occurred while they were discharging their duty. In New York alone, the suicide rate among the police is twice that of the general public. These constitute the reported suicides; however there may many suicides that go unreported. Most suicide cases are not reported by fellow policemen, in order to protect the privacy and dignity of the deceased. The general fear among these officers is that a report of suicide would demean the character and reputation of the deceased in society and in the police circles. Moreover, concealing the suicide of a fellow policeman would enable the family members of the deceased to obtain the service benefits that are usually provided in instances of normal death in the course of employment. Interestingly, many suicide victims are patrol officers, who have enjoy a good reputation and excellent career record within the department. Most suicide victims had committed suicide using their handguns, while they were off duty[25].

Policemen have easy access to handguns, which are always at their disposal for ready use. Some suicides had transpired on account of hatred against partners and failed love affairs. Police officers are afraid to request their superior officials to confiscate their guns, in times of depression or stress. This is because they feel that such requests would act as barriers to their career prospects. Hence, most of the officers under stress do not request their superior officers to confiscate their weapons from them[26].

This dilemma helps increase the risk of suicide due to the ready availability of handguns with the officer under stress. At any point of time, when the stress becomes unbearable, the police personnel may commit suicide. In the case of higher ranking officers, they are vulnerable to special kinds of pressure from various quarters. For instance homicide detectives have to investigate grievous crimes and brutal murders, which include serial killings[27].

Any violation committed by police officers attracts a public outcry and wide spread criticism. In addition to this, the scene of the crime frequently tends to overpower their bodily defense mechanisms. They have to observe in detail shocking and brutal killings, and they have to deal with violence, mutilation of bodies and other brutal acts. Frequently, they have to deal with murdered children, which generate considerable internal panic. These visual factors increase the latent pressure on the psyche of the police officers. At some stage, their defense mechanisms are no longer capable of withstanding the terrible sights presented by these crime scenes[28].

It must be understood that police officers are also normal human beings and have emotions and feelings like any other member of society. If their fellow officers have been murdered they are likely to react as a normal individual would. It is not surprising that they develop rage and revulsion against the perpetrator of such crime. Over a period of time, their brain could fail to respond due to extreme fatigue. The consequence of such fatigue could be the commission of errors by the officer that results in deterioration in the quality of work. Police officers exclude all relationships at home and at the workplace. Their severe mental fatigue wears down their defense mechanisms, which constitutes the beginning of depression and stress, and the resulting loss of decision – making capacity[29].

It is the task of the police to play a protective social role. Although they are public servants, their responsibilities are more important than that of the other public servants. As such, police officers have to safeguard the rights of individuals; and this requirement imposes greater pressure on police officers, while they are discharging their duty. They have to exercise extreme caution, in order to avert any inconvenience to the general public; and they have to take extra care to resolve the problems of individuals. All these issues tend to increase the pressure on police officers[30].

Bibliography

Andrew Young & Gerald Parr. An Examination of the Effectiveness of Periodic Stress Debriefings With Law Enforcement Personnel. Retrieved 29 November 2008 from http://counselingoutfitters.com/vistas/vistas04/15.pdf

Blau, T.H. (1994). Psychological Services for Law Enforcement. New York: Wiley.

Borum, R. & Philpot, C. (1993). Therapy with law enforcement couples: Clinical management of the “high-risk lifestyle.” American Journal of Family Therapy, 21, 122-135.

Central Florida Police Stress Unit, Inc. retrieved 29 November 2008 from http://www.policestress.org/main.htm

Laurence Miller. Law Enforcement Traumatic Stress: Clinical Syndromes and Intervention Strategies. Retrieved 29 November 2008 from http://www.aaets.org/arts/art87.htm

Miller, L. (1994). Civilian posttraumatic stress disorder: Clinical syndromes and psychotherapeutic strategies. Psychotherapy, 31, 655-664.

Pam Fitzerald. Crisis Manual: Crisis Intervention Plan for Police Department and Undercover Law Enforcement Personnel. Retrieved 29 November 2008 from http://www.wendywestie.com/fitzgerald_manual.html

Peter Finn & Julie Esselman Tomz. 1996. Developing a Law Enforcement Stress Program for Officers and Their Families. Retrieved 29 November 2008 from http://www.abtassociates.com/reports/ES-stress-program.pdf

Robert Hoffman, Thomas R. Collingwood. 2005. Fit for Duty. Published by Human Kinetics. ISBN: 0736055436, 9780736055437. Page 15

Sewell, J.D. (1993). Traumatic stress of multiple murder investigations. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 6, 103-118.

Sewell, J.D., Ellison, K.W. & Hurrell, J.J. (1988). Stress management in law enforcement: Where do we go from here? The Police Chief, October, pp. 94-98.[1] Andrew Young & Gerald Parr. An Examination of the Effectiveness of Periodic Stress Debriefings With Law Enforcement Personnel. Retrieved 29 November 2008 from http://counselingoutfitters.com/vistas/vistas04/15.pdf[2] Andrew Young & Gerald Parr. An Examination of the Effectiveness of Periodic Stress Debriefings With Law Enforcement Personnel. Retrieved 29 November 2008 from http://counselingoutfitters.com/vistas/vistas04/15.pdf[3] Pam Fitzerald. Crisis Manual: Crisis Intervention Plan for Police Department and Undercover Law Enforcement Personnel. Retrieved 29 November 2008 from http://www.wendywestie.com/fitzgerald_manual.html[4] Pam Fitzerald. Crisis Manual: Crisis Intervention Plan for Police Department and Undercover Law Enforcement Personnel. Retrieved 29 November 2008 from http://www.wendywestie.com/fitzgerald_manual.html[5] Pam Fitzerald. Crisis Manual: Crisis Intervention Plan for Police Department and Undercover Law Enforcement Personnel. Retrieved 29 November 2008 from http://www.wendywestie.com/fitzgerald_manual.html[6] Pam Fitzerald. Crisis Manual: Crisis Intervention Plan for Police Department and Undercover Law Enforcement Personnel. Retrieved 29 November 2008 from http://www.wendywestie.com/fitzgerald_manual.html[7] Pam Fitzerald. Crisis Manual: Crisis Intervention Plan for Police Department and Undercover Law Enforcement Personnel. Retrieved 29 November 2008 from http://www.wendywestie.com/fitzgerald_manual.html[8] Pam Fitzerald. Crisis Manual: Crisis Intervention Plan for Police Department and Undercover Law Enforcement Personnel. Retrieved 29 November 2008 from http://www.wendywestie.com/fitzgerald_manual.html[9] Peter Finn & Julie Esselman Tomz. 1996. Developing a Law Enforcement Stress Program for Officers and Their Families. Retrieved 29 November 2008 from http://www.abtassociates.com/reports/ES-stress-program.pdf[10] Peter Finn & Julie Esselman Tomz. 1996. Developing a Law Enforcement Stress Program for Officers and Their Families. Retrieved 29 November 2008 from http://www.abtassociates.com/reports/ES-stress-program.pdf[11] Central Florida Police Stress Unit, Inc. retrieved 29 November 2008 from http://www.policestress.org/main.htm[12] Central Florida Police Stress Unit, Inc. retrieved 29 November 2008 from http://www.policestress.org/main.htm[13] Central Florida Police Stress Unit, Inc. retrieved 29 November 2008 from http://www.policestress.org/main.htm[14] Central Florida Police Stress Unit, Inc. retrieved 29 November 2008 from http://www.policestress.org/main.htm[15] Robert Hoffman, Thomas R. Collingwood. 2005. Fit for Duty. Published by Human Kinetics. ISBN: 0736055436, 9780736055437. Page 15[16] Laurence Miller. Law Enforcement Traumatic Stress: Clinical Syndromes and Intervention Strategies. Retrieved 29 November 2008 from http://www.aaets.org/arts/art87.htm[17] Laurence Miller. Law Enforcement Traumatic Stress: Clinical Syndromes and Intervention Strategies. Retrieved 29 November 2008 from http://www.aaets.org/arts/art87.htm[18] Miller, L. (1994). Civilian posttraumatic stress disorder: Clinical syndromes and psychotherapeutic strategies. Psychotherapy, 31, 655-664.[19] Miller, L. (1994). Civilian posttraumatic stress disorder: Clinical syndromes and psychotherapeutic strategies. Psychotherapy, 31, 655-664.[20] Blau, T.H. (1994). Psychological Services for Law Enforcement. New York: Wiley.[21] Blau, T.H. (1994). Psychological Services for Law Enforcement. New York: Wiley.[22] Sewell, J.D., Ellison, K.W. & Hurrell, J.J. (1988). Stress management in law enforcement: Where do we go from here? The Police Chief, October, pp. 94-98.[23] Borum, R. & Philpot, C. (1993). Therapy with law enforcement couples: Clinical management of the “high-risk lifestyle.” American Journal of Family Therapy, 21, 122-135.[24] Laurence Miller. Law Enforcement Traumatic Stress: Clinical Syndromes and Intervention Strategies. Retrieved 29 November 2008 from http://www.aaets.org/arts/art87.htm[25] Laurence Miller. Law Enforcement Traumatic Stress: Clinical Syndromes and Intervention Strategies. Retrieved 29 November 2008 from http://www.aaets.org/arts/art87.htm[26] Sewell, J.D. (1993). Traumatic stress of multiple murder investigations. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 6, 103-118.[27] Sewell, J.D. (1993). Traumatic stress of multiple murder investigations. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 6, 103-118.[28] Laurence Miller. Law Enforcement Traumatic Stress: Clinical Syndromes and Intervention Strategies. Retrieved 29 November 2008 from http://www.aaets.org/arts/art87.htm[29] Laurence Miller. Law Enforcement Traumatic Stress: Clinical Syndromes and Intervention Strategies. Retrieved 29 November 2008 from http://www.aaets.org/arts/art87.htm[30] Laurence Miller. Law Enforcement Traumatic Stress: Clinical Syndromes and Intervention Strategies. Retrieved 29 November 2008 from http://www.aaets.org/arts/art87.htm