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Stress And Law Enforcement

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Management and Dealing with Stress in Officers

It is important that law enforcement officers are able to handle stress and build his or her zone of stability. Officers have a ready-made support system in each other. They better understand the special problems and feelings that come with the job that friends and family members don't. That doesn't necessarily mean that this relationship with their fellow officers will cure all. Sometimes, because of the "macho" image that police officers uphold, they will give back negative feedback in a situation where an officer needs comfort. For example, an officer shoots someone in the line of duty and is having an emotional struggle with it, and a fellow officer (who thinks he is supporting that officer) makes a comment like, "Good job, that dirt bag deserves it." In a situation like that, a fellow officer feels worse and more stressed. It is very important for management, whether police or correctional, to make sure that they can properly help out their officers when needed. There are many things that happen on the streets and in prison that can severely effect an officer. It is only with a good management system and staff that officers will have the proper support to move on.

A major stressor is when a law enforcement officer must deal with death. No one is mentally or emotionally prepared to deal with death. When a law enforcement officer has to notify the next of kin, they must pass through stages of notification. The first stage is to prepare by creating a self-protecting sense of social distance for the officer. An experienced officer will be more concerned with containing the emotions of the recipient rather than their concern for how they will cope. The next stage is the delivery. It only takes a few seconds to deliver the news, and the officer will use their badge, uniform, and the formality of the delivery as a way to protect him/herself from this personal situation (Looney & Windsor 1982). Dealing with the pain that you see in other people is a major adjustment. It will take time and experience for a law enforcement officer to cope with this aspect of the job.

The most traumatic event in a law enforcement officer's job is dealing emotionally with the involvement in a shutting incident. Officers may suffer from posttraumatic stress reactions due to a shooting incident. It is estimated that one-third of officers have a mild reaction, one-third have a moderate reaction, and one-third have a severe reaction when involved in a shooting incident (Solomon 1988). Even if the officer has a good mental preparation and a solid zone of stability, other factors such as the degree of the threat to the officer's life (including wounds), amount of warning before the shooting, how long the danger persists, the security of the officer in his/her judgment to shoot, who the deceased person is, the administrative support he/she receives, and how the media treats the situation, all effect how mild, moderate, or severe the reaction will be. The long-term effects vary from person to person. Some may suffer from flashbacks, sleep disturbances, nightmares, depression, fearfulness, emotional withdrawal from family and fellow officers, appetite changes and hostility towards the law enforcement system (Solomon 1990).

In order to ensure that the officer's emotional reaction to a shooting incident remains at a minimum, the department should have a system setup for this. The officers must be reminded of what reactions they can expect when they are hired regarding their involvement in a shooting. There should never be any suggestion or accusation of wrongdoing during the debriefing interview. The officer should be debriefed on how the investigation procedure will operate so that the department can get all the facts regarding the incident. Court preceding and dispositions should be re-explained to prepare the officer for the court date, if necessary. The requirement that the officer see a counselor within twenty-four hours of the shooting, to ride with another officer for a day or two following the incident, or to surrender a firearm during the investigation should be upheld.

Stress in law enforcement is pervasive and, unlike occupations



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