Law enforcement exposure to stress: an analysis of experience with stress and the possible effects

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Dawson, Patrick H.
Law Enforcement officers are subjected to critical incidents and traumatic events throughout their careers, no matter what size department or where the department is. These incidents can have lasting effects on the individuals who experience them. Some of these effects can have negative physical and/or psychological impacts on the officers, not just distressing them, but also the ones around them. This research was designed to estimate the types of reactions that traumatic events could have on law enforcement officers over the course of their careers. These reactions were then examined to see if there is a link between exposure to this stress and related issues. This study focuses on the types of stress related to the incidents that these officers respond to, either on an occasional or regular basis. Further looking into what types of programs are in place to assist officers in handling this stress. Using a modified Life Event Checklist, which was designed to measure Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a series of events accompanied by individual symptoms have been looked at. Additionally, whether these events were experienced as an officer or a civilian. These events that individuals respond to and the impact that may come of them can have lasting consequences on the officer, affecting not only them, but also others around them in a negative manner. The results of this study have shown that officers do experience stressful events at a higher rate when compared to their personal life. These events were also contributed to negative effects on the individual, with some of these events having a higher rate of negative effects than others. There was no significant correlation found linking the effects to the events. There were findings that showed that these events do cause 6 negative effects on the individual. With these types of negative impacts, the 13.7% of individuals that have attempted to seek treatment have been met resistance on several different levels ranging from personal life to department administration. This research has shown that there needs to be more and/or additional services in place to assist police officers in dealing with the stress that they experience. Respondents recommended two specific types of services, to include crises debriefings or the availability of counseling to help with their stress. Further research needs to examine the best type of crises service and/or counseling in terms of experienced events and police subculture considerations.