Police Stress

The Job

The stress that police officers experience day-to-day is profound. The conditions of our cities, the constant exposure to human suffering, and the increasing levels of crime greatly impact the police. They are expected to deal fairly with members of society that others scorn and reject. During an eight-hour tour of duty, police officers are constantly exposed to crime and its suffering and degradation. Their job is to prevent correct, or solve societal ills that have no immediate solution. Their continuous interface with the sad, fearful, and frustrating side of life has a cumulative and corrosive effect on a police officer’s values and outlook.

The Department

Additional job stress results from organization and management structures within police departments. Police work demands a crisis-oriented atmosphere. This occurs at the expense of long term planning and clearly defined policies and procedures designed to benefit employees. A thoughtful and nurturing response to an officer experiencing personal problems and needing to develop alternative patterns of behavior is difficult to achieve. Simultaneously authoritarian and paternalistic, it can sometimes result in clear treatment mandates and decisions. However, it can also leave the police manager unclear about his role and result in punitive and ineffective responses to the problem employee as well as the employee with personal problems.

The Public

The “high profile” nature of the job also has a strong effect upon the police. The individual officer and the department as a whole are under constant public scrutiny. As a result, the police officer is often placed in a no-win situation where a swift and punitive response is demanded by the public to a complex issue that needs more careful consideration. Popular stereotypes and public perceptions, that do not accurately reflect the realities of police work, create an environment in which the police officer becomes isolated from non-police personnel. Although this does produce a strong sense of camaraderie and teamwork within the police community, it often results in an individual’s or family’s isolation and despair.