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Media > Newsletters > Law Enforcement Bulletin > January 2014 > Stress Management isn’t a Luxury in Law Enforcement; It’s Vital

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Stress Management isn’t a Luxury in Law Enforcement; It’s Vital

The career of police officer was named the 10th most stressful job in the United States for 2013 by CareerCast, a career and job opportunity website that provides annual rankings.

“(An) officer’s beat can be one of the most dangerous in the working world,” CareerCast acknowledges. “Breaking down doors not knowing what’s on the other side definitely raises blood-pressure levels. And loss of life on the job is a real, ongoing concern. Police officers are tasked with a community’s safety, but they must also uphold the standards to which the profession is held, which can also be a challenge.”
The National Institute of Justice has identified several factors that cause stress for law enforcement, including work-related factors such as frequent rotating shifts and regular duty changes as well as personal issues such as family, financial, or health problems.
The Ohio Peace Officer Training Commission (OPOTC), recognizing the need for stress management training, is creating content for four hours of basic training on the topic to be taught beginning in July.
“We are putting serious and hard-hitting issues into this class and want to show the recruits what stress can do physically and mentally over a career in law enforcement,” said Aaron Cory, a law enforcement training officer at OPOTA who has written content for the curriculum addition. The training will focus on the causes of cumulative and traumatic stress, the body’s physical response, and stress management. OPOTA also offers classes on stress management in its advanced training curriculum.
Cory said two effective ways to deal with stress are to talk about it and to exercise — vital contributors to good mental and physical health. “The most important thing an officer can do is talk about it,” he said. “Once they do, they will see many officers are affected.”
Also, consider that your family’s concern for your job can be a stressor. Erica Dreadfulwater, a writer for Police Magazine and the wife of a police officer, explained what helped lower stress in her home: “Before I met my husband, I had never been around guns. Suddenly, I’m living with a badge-carrying, vest-wearing gun lover. I was able to find a stress-relieving hobby by letting him teach me to shoot, buy me guns, take me to the range on date nights before dinner, and teach me useless gun facts. It allowed him to open up to me about things at work — I now understood that part of his life.”
Another helpful tip is to control stressors through your conduct. When you are on calls, remember that your tone, actions, and words can make a situation more stressful between suspects, citizens, and yourself. For example, if you yell to a suspect, “Hey you! Come here!” they may hear, “Go away — quickly!” That’s a point made by Dr. George J. Thompson, founder of the Verbal Judo Institute. Based on your word choice and tone, you may have created a more stressful situation by making the suspect nervous.
Communicating with civilians can also lead to stress, especially when they see your badge and expect you to be completely up to speed on all community and government resources. If you aren’t, the citizen may become rude or disrespectful.
To address this problem, Chief Scott Reinbolt of the Blanchester (Ohio) Police Department suggests agencies create a resource directory for each patrol vehicle. The directory should contain local contacts for social service, government, and other agencies frequently requested by citizens. “It is important to point people in the right direction,” Reinbolt said, noting the tie-in with the service aspect of police work.
Law enforcement is one of the most important professions to the structure and well-being of society. With great responsibility sometimes comes great pressure. If you find the stress of your job is too much, contact your supervisor for help and resources.
Here are some additional resources:
Jennifer Anne Adair
Deputy General Counsel for Law Enforcement Initiatives