Law enforcement itself is seen as a very demanding occupation that can cause stress in many different instances. It has been found that the nature of police work is a major contributor to the presence of stressors among law enforcement personnel (Buker & Wiecko, 2007). Often police officers are exposed to the worst of the worst not normally seen by citizens adding to the stress and anxiety of these officers. Stress is dealt with on a daily basis by law enforcement personnel and the impact of this stress can affect not only the performance of his or her professional life but also the officers’ personal life as well. Knowing and being able to recognize these stressors can help individual officers to reduce their stress level and to perform better on and off duty.
Although the definition of stress varies from one person to the next in any given situation for the most part stress is considered to be due to negative stimuli which consist of physical, mental, and or emotional strain/tension (“The American Stress Institute,” 2017). Stress is the reaction to strain on a person that can be an emotional and or a mental reaction developed from any given situation that a person may encounter. With that said stress that law enforcement officers deal with on a daily basis is seen as inherently negative. Negative stress or otherwise known as distress originates from situations a person may not be able to control. It is this negative stress that can affect a person’s health over a period of time if not handled or managed properly.
Often law enforcement officers deal with stressful situations while on the job that can include but not limited the routine calls that may contain threats to an officer safety, dealing with emotional victims, often having to remain neutral and remain calm even while being provoked, constant responsibility for protecting the citizens they serve, and the overall pace of the job where it is known to quickly change. It has also been found that many other factors can contribute the causes of stress for law enforcement personnel such as court-related matters, dealing with crimes involving victims, suspicious and at times uncooperative subjects, difficult work schedules, downtime or idle time, and the added factor that danger is always present in this line of work all of which are some of the cause of stress for law enforcement officers (“University of Minnesota,” n.d.).
The second area that is a major cause of stress for law enforcement personnel is the inner departmental/agency stress that comes from where the officer works. The inner workings of the law enforcement agency have been shown to cause the same amount of stress if not more than that of the daily duties of the officer. Within the agencies that law enforcement officers work there are many factors that have been found to contribute to an officers’ stress that can sometimes include; the leadership, coworkers, policies, role ambiguity, role conflict, lack of support from supervisors, lack of group cohesiveness, and lack of promotional opportunities (Hassell, Archbold, ; Stichman, 2011). Also, the lack participation in decisions affecting daily organizational practice can cause stress for the officers of that agency (Buker ; Wiecko, 2007). These factors alone can cause stress among its officers. The factors listed above have been found to be the overall dissatisfaction of the police officers who work for these agencies, in turn, these factors often result in higher turnover rates and or burnout of its officers (Hassell et al., 2011). Another area that is important to take note of is the police administration policies and procedures which can be an additional cause of stress for officers. Law enforcement personnel are to follow any and all policies/procedures their agency may have put in place. If and when the policies and procedures are not followed the officer can then become involved with an internal investigation that builds the level of stress of an officer. Officers are left feeling as if they are being watched and not trusted that in turn compounds the already high-stress level of the officer (“University of Minnesota,” n.d.). Law enforcement agencies need to have a solid organizational structure in the way they operate due to the fact if it is not corrected it can directly lead to the lower productivity, stress, and a reduction of job satisfaction of its officers. Most agencies lack the proper procedures for how an officer is to approach the administration staff with these stress factor issues within their own agencies, only adding to the stress of law enforcement personnel.
The third major cause of stress for law enforcement personnel comes from the officer’s personal life. Although the vast majority of stress comes from on the job in law enforcement there are a number of stressors that come with their personal lives outside of work. These factors are what most individuals no matter if they are in law enforcement or not consider to be stressful in everyday life. Law enforcement officers can and often do experience stress-related factors off-duty and may include family and other relationship problems, financial problems, health problems, and or the addition of a second job for making extra income (“Causes of Officer Stress,” n.d.). Factors such as the ones that are listed can often find their way into the officers’ professional lives. These off-duty issues such as family and other relationship problems often cause the officers to become distracted while on duty as they worry about what will come of it. This results in poor service from the officer to the public. Also, for relationship issues, they can become heated and disputes may occur that can lead to an officer being terminated from their position. Financial problems tend to strain the officer, it is this financial trouble that can cause debt that can and will reflect poorly on the agency they work for. This financial debt can cause the agency to dismiss the officer as well. If an officer due to his or her financial issues seeks out a second job it can add unwanted stress. The second job a law enforcement officer takes on can compound stress and the effects of stress for that officer. Lastly, is the health of an officer. An officer who already has health-related issues can be a danger to themselves and others. Law enforcement offices can feel stress if they cannot perform the duties they need to as a result of health relates issues. For example, running or chasing a suspect can be difficult and if an officer has an injury and or other related health issues it can cause stress for that officer.
Having looked into the major causes of stress professional and personally for law enforcement personnel with some depth it is important to know what the impact of that stress can have on those officers. It is the combination of stress on and off-duty of the law enforcement officers’ life that can cause many issues for the officer that include physical and mental health issues.
To begin the physical health issues may present themselves differently from one person to the next but may include some of the following heart disease, high blood pressure, ulcers, digestive disorders, or even headaches to name a few (“University of Minnesota,” n.d.). These types of health issues can be damaging to the officers personal and professional life. For many law enforcement officers, they already have at least one if not more of these issues. These are proven health issues that make it difficult for officers to effectively do his or her job. These negative health-related issues to law enforcement officers can also greatly affect an officers home life as well. Fatigue is also a major issue when it comes to stress. With a career in law enforcement, it is common to work long hours and have an ever-changing schedule that contributes to fatigue. It is this prolonged work with fatigue that can lead to what is known as chronic fatigue syndrome. Chronic fatigue syndrome is a health issue that is classified as extreme fatigue and will not improve with bed rest and will steadily worsen with added physical and or mental activity (“Causes of Officer Stress,” n.d.). Fatigue that occurs in an officer may greatly reflect in his or her everyday work that can include some or all of the following examples; higher rates of citizen complaints about reported misconduct, having problems communicating with supervisors along with having stressful relationships with superiors, experience more accidental injuries while on duty, and have a higher risk of being seriously injured or killed because of lack of focus and not recognizing the danger signs (Bond, 2017). Fatigue and complacency go hand and hand as fatigue is what opens the door for mistakes that can ultimately lead to an officer being hurt or even killed while on or off-duty. Fatigue will impair an officer’s mental and physical abilities that limit their job performance that in the long run can and will affect the officer’s ability to deal with stressful situations (“Causes of Officer Stress,” n.d.).
The second area in which stress can have an impact on law enforcement personnel are mental health issues. These mental health issues for officers can be behavioral issues that are observed when the officer is dealing with stressful situations and is often displayed as anger, depression, or even suicide. These types of behavioral issues can have a major impact on an officer’s career and home life. It has been found that officers continuing to work with high levels of stress while going unmanaged for long periods of time leads to anxiety, depression, or even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (“Causes of Officer Stress,” n.d.). PTSD is a major concern when it comes to stress for law enforcement officers and the need to manage it properly. PTSD is a mental health issue that anyone can develop after a high-stress situation or as a witness to a life-threatening event that could include responding to traffic accidents, suicides, assaults, or even a homicide. Not all people who are exposed to these types of high-stress situations will develop PTSD, but it is noted the risk of developing PTSD will go up with the increasing exposure to traumatic events (McCanlies, Mnatsakanova, Andrew, Burchfiel, ; Violanti, 2014). Police officers are in this category as they often respond to a large number of traumatic and stressful situations on a daily basis. These stressful situations for police officers directly lead to higher rates of PTSD that can impact an officer’s ability to work effectively. It has also been found that if an officer openly and thinks actively or deliberately thinks about the event and how it impacts their life it can lead to cognitive reshaping and post-traumatic growth, leaving the mind open to rumination or other un-wanted thoughts that increasing distress for that officer (McCanlies et al., 2014). This impact of stress on law enforcement personnel consists of both physical and mental health issues that can be damaging to their personal and professional lives. The stress an officer takes on can have many unwanted effects that damage not only the ability to work but being able to maintain relationships at home. Therefore, it is important to know and to recognize the signs of stress and how it starts to affect the individual and then work toward coping with the issues at hand in a healthy manner.
Taking into consideration the many causes of stress for law enforcement personnel it is important for each individual officer to know what exactly causes their stress for both on and off duty issues. Being able to recognize the numerous causes of stress for these officers and understanding them will ultimately help them find ways to cope with their stress issues. Each person has a different idea as to what constitutes as stressful also each person has a different idea as for how to cope with these stressful events. With being a law enforcement officer with stress, the main goal is to return to the mental state of that before the stressful event occurred. Without properly dealing with stress and becoming exposed to more stress it can lead to more negative side-effects for the officer. These negative side-effects can impact an officer’s professional and personal like. The side-effects of stress on the officer can include negative health risks and loss of employment if not managed properly. The reasons listed here feature how important it is that an officers stress is first recognized and then reduced to a normal rate. With that said finding the proper ways to manage and reduce stress, a law enforcement officer can come back from high-stress levels and continue to be productive in his or her professional and personal life.