Heith Copes Policing and Stress

ISBN 13: 9780131123717

Policing and Stress

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9780131123717: Policing and Stress

Focusing on the topic of police stress, this book compiles chapters written by leading police researchers who examine the sources and consequences of stress, as well as the effective strategies for coping with it. The book covers a wide array of topics that will enlighten interested civilians and empower police officers. A cross-cultural appeal features authors from the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada offering an international assessment of stress. Chapter topics discuss the field of police work before and after 9/11, critical incidents, domestic disputes, the stress of change, dying for the job, police suicide, and workplace strategies for managing stress. For use in police training courses, and for police chiefs, assistant police chiefs, sheriffs, chief deputies, policy trainers, and field training officers.

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If asked whether they believe policing to be more stressful than other occupations, most people, relying on their stereotypical understanding of policing, would answer yes. But does research on policing support this conclusion? Interestingly, researchers offer various answers to this question, and there is nowhere near unanimous agreement that policing is as stressful as people suppose. Some argue that in addition to the routine stressors of employment, police must confront dangerous and traumatic situations (e.g., high-speed pursuits, killing someone in the line of duty, and being physically attacked) that individuals in other occupations never face. Others contend that these high-stress situations occur so infrequently that the typical officer will never experience them and therefore they cannot be a significant source of stress. They contend that policing is really no more stressful than any other occupation.

While there is no consensus regarding whether policing is more stressful than other occupations, most agree that job-related stress is an important issue for police. In fact, nearly every text on policing covers stress in detail; some even devote an entire chapter to it. One reason most authors of policing texts include a section on stress is because of the potential consequences of too much stress on officers. The effects of prolonged exposure to stressors are clear and include numerous physical, psychological, and social ailments. Physically, police officers are thought to experience high rates of disorders such as coronary heart disease, sleeping disorders, migraine headaches, and stomach ulcers. In terms of emotional problems, some studies show that police officers have high rates of anxiety and posttraumatic stress disorder. Stress-related factors have been linked to the high rates of suicide, divorce, and substance abuse among officers. Additional consequences of chronic stress in the profession include a high incidence of low job satisfaction, absenteeism, burnout, and premature retirement. It is clear that stressed employees perform poorly on their job. This is especially pertinent for police officers, as one of the primary goals of policing is to serve the public, and when officers fail to meet this goal, the community may unduly suffer. In short, some scholars argue that members of the policing profession face numerous stressors that they are improperly coping with, and as a result, their professional and personal lives are disrupted.

It may say something about employment in our society that we must continue to debate whether policing, which has never been highly coveted or materially rewarding, is a stressful occupation. Nevertheless, considering the potential adverse consequences on the well-being of officers and the community, it may be particularly important for those pursuing a career in policing to understand the sources of stress, its potential consequences, and the most effective ways to cope with it. After all, general job performance, decisions, and demeanor by police have serious consequences. This volume addresses the topic of police stress by bringing together top scholars from across the globe, including those from the United States, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia. In addition, contributors to this volume come from a variety of academic fields, including sociology, psychology, criminal justice, and the health sciences, to cast the light of several disciplines on the matter.

The first section of the book, titled "Sources of Police Stress," begins with an examination of the many causes of stress for police officers. By understanding the factors and situations that bring about stress, officers may be able to avoid stressful situations or at least minimize the harm from them. This section begins with an empirical study that investigates changes in the sources of police stress after the tragedy on September 11, 2001. In this chapter, Dennis Stevens begins with an overview of the main issues regarding police stress. He discusses how to define stress, the various stages of stress, and some of the major sources of police stress as reported by previous research. Stevens then describes how the attack on 9/11 changed officers' perceptions of the major sources of police str6ss. To do this, he compares the results of two police stress surveys. The first one was administered before the attack on 9/11, and the second one was given after the attack. Stevens's analysis of the two surveys indicates that the consequences of the 9/11 tragedy extended well beyond that day and have caused dramatic changes in police officers' perceptions of what is and is not stressful.

Whereas Chapter 1 addresses a number of sources of stress, Chapter 2 focuses on stress arising from critical incidents. In this chapter, Douglas Paton discusses the origins of critical incident stressors that police officers must contend with. He also describes how critical incidents can be conceptualized along three phases. These phases include the alarm and mobilization phase, the response phase, and the letdown and reintegration phase. Each of these phases brings with it unique stressors of which officers need to be aware.

In Chapter 3, Judy Van Wyk discusses sources of stress that are built into the day-to-day operations of police work. Police must respond to a variety of situations, and each of these situations brings with it unique stressors. For example, police officers acknowledge that responding to domestic dispute calls is often stressful. They may arrive at a scene only to be verbally and/or physically attacked by all parties involved, or they may find a severely injured victim that they have to tend to. In addition to these overt stressors, Van Wyk argues that domestic dispute calls have a number of hidden stressors. These stressors include sexism, racism, the dynamics of partner violence, normative perceptions of family, and media and publicity. While this is not a full list of the hidden stressors associated with responding to domestic disputes, it does generate thought and discussion on the topic.

Police officers are subject to both acute and chronic stressors. Most people, including police, place greater importance on the acute stressors that police are exposed to, such as high-speed chases, forceful arrests, and being fired on by suspects. Research has shown, however, that chronic stress may actually be more damaging to officers' health. In Chapter 4, Vivian Lord describes a chronic source of stress that arises from the organization of the police department. She elaborates on the stress placed on police officers when new programs are implemented in police departments, specifically community-oriented or problem-solving policing. The ambiguity of changing roles and how the department expects officers to act is a constant source of stress. Social support systems have been found to moderate the impact of organizational stress, but these support systems need to be source-specific to work effectively.

Part II of the book focuses on what can happen if stress goes untreated. Numerous studies have shown the negative effects of police stress on police personnel. An overview of the various consequences of stress is presented in Chapter 5. Here, Kent Kerley argues that the consequences of police stress have been neglected by researchers when compared to the sources of police stress. With the exceptions of posttraumatic stress disorder and police suicide, the consequences of stress have been under-researched. His chapter is an attempt to bring readers up to date on the research on the consequences of stress. His review focuses on three broad categories of stress-related consequences, including on-the-job consequences, physical and emotional consequences, and family and relational consequences. Consequences on the job include excessive absenteeism and tardiness, burnout, corruption, and increased use of force. Physical and emotional problems associated with chronic stress include heart disease, sleep disorders, migraines, alcoholism, and an increased risk of suicide. The familial and relational problems associated with prolonged stress include domestic abuse, divorce, and reduced social interaction.

In Chapter 6, John Violanti examines the relationship between stress and disease as it applies to policing. Violanti argues that the chronic and acute stress of police work keeps the body in a state of continuous activation to guard against these stressors. This puts a great deal of wear and tear on the body. The nature of police work makes it difficult for the body to shut off the physiological responses to the stressors, thus weakening the body and making the officer more susceptible to disease and illness. This is evidenced by the fact that police officers have high rates of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, premature death, and suicide. Violanti suggests that proper interventions and programs to develop resiliency can go a long way in alleviating the health problems associated with police stress.

Suicide is the most extreme reaction to police stress. This topic is explored in Chapter 7 by author Robert Loo. Here, he presents a psychosocial model of police suicide. This model is intended to describe, explain, and predict police suicide. According to this model, suicide is the final consequence of a series of factors. The model begins by acknowledging the many stressors that police experience. But it also suggests that people experience stress differently. Personality factors such as hardiness and emotional intelligence affect how people cope with and react to stress. Those who are unable to cope effectively with stress are subject to a number of stress reactions. For those least able to cope and those who have the desire to end their lives, the ready availability of firearms makes carrying through with their plans much easier. Loo concludes his chapter with a discussion of suicide "postvention" strategies, most of which deal largely with providing help to survivors such as family, friends, and co-workers.

Police administrators have begun to recognize the serious c...

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Copes, Heith
Published by Prentice Hall (2004)
ISBN 10: 0131123718 ISBN 13: 9780131123717
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