An Overview of The Categories of Police Stress

By virtue of any credible yardstick, the life of a law enforcement officer is considered among the most stressful of all occupations.  INTELLEO takes a look at where that stress consistently ranks and the major categories of police stress.

Among Top Five Almost Always

One recent broadcast report ranks police stress in the top five of all jobs.  A March, 2019 CNBC report, citing a CareerCast, survey indicated job stress related to law enforcement ranked fourth, behind that of an enlisted military member, firefighter and airline pilot.

A similar U.S. News & World Report survey from the spring of 2019 likewise ranks the stress of a police officer among the top five of all jobs, slotting in behind the stress experienced by surgeons, lawyers, bartenders, and paramedics.  And this survey draws an interesting correlation that shows almost no rhyme or reason between job stress and the size of the job’s paycheck. ranks the stress of police officers at the top of its 2019 list with any number of other similar surveys placing police stress among the top five dating back anywhere from a few years to dozens of years of survey data.

The reasons behind high levels of police job stress are many, ranging from the daily dealings with the dark side of humanity, to the potential danger associated with a routine traffic stop, to simply the unpredictability of what a law enforcement office might encounter from one day to the next.  Here’s a closer look at how the common categories of police stress are classified.

Categorizing Police Stress

An in-depth 2017 research study conducted by American Criminal Justice and available for review at NCBI takes a deep dive into statistical data using the Spielberger Police Stress Survey instrument, measuring some 60 specific stressors grouped into three broad categories.  Those categories of police stress are represented by:

  1. Administrative and organizational pressure.
  2. Physical and psychological threat.
  3. Lack of support.

This scholarly approach even breaks down police stress indicators by sub-groupings of officer race and gender.

Spelled out in layman’s terms, some of the major stress triggers experienced by police officers are identified in a University of Minnesota Sociology study that flags these 10 among the top causes of police stress:

  • Alterations in body rhythm from monthly shift rotations.
  • Role conflicts between the job (serving the public/enforcing the law/upholding ethical standards).
  • Threats to officers’ health and safety.
  • Boredom, alternating with the sudden need for alertness and mobilized energy.
  • Responsibilities for protecting the lives of others.
  • Continual exposure to people in pain or distress.
  • The need to control emotions even when provoked.
  • The presence of a gun, even during off-duty hours.
  • The fragmented nature of police work where officers rarely experience the opportunity to follow cases to conclusion.

The Minnesota study dovetails in some of its findings with the NCBI study, indicating that female police officers and minority police officers may face even additional stressors from supervisors, peers and the public as to why they chose police work as a career and questions about their physical and emotional ability to handle police work.

Common Impacts of Stress on Police Officers

As you might imagine, the day-to-day police stresses noted above as well as others often manifest themselves in less-than-positive effects.  Analyzing decades of data, the University of Buffalo study published in Science Daily: “Impact of Stress on Police Officers,” does not paint an attractive picture.  Among the conclusions:

*Police officers experience a higher risk of high blood pressure and associated hypertension issues.

*Police officers experience a higher risk of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) than many other occupations.

*Police officers are more likely to experience heart problems than many other professions.

*Suicide rates for police officers are higher than most other occupations (three times as likely in police officers as those holding other municipal employee positions).

*Both male and female officers over the age of 40 experience higher levels of stress which take a cumulative toll on law enforcement officers both mentally, physically and psychologically.

The University of Buffalo does draw a strong sensical conclusion.  The effects of police stress need to be acknowledged, de-stigmatized and treated.

Resources and Methods to Combat Police Stress

While there is no magic wand than can be waived to completely eliminate police job stress, does a good job of sharing information compiled and published from American Military University authors Mark Bond, Matt Loux and Dr. Shana Nicholson who have authored numerous papers on the topic.

Among their combined suggestions to reduce police stress:

*As much as possible, police officers should plan meals, try to eat healthy and limit or reduce high-calorie fast foods.

*Regularly schedule and take vacation and personal time.

*See a doctor for annual health check-ups.

*Live within a police officers’ financial means so that “moonlighting” a second job does not bring on additional stress.

Among their combined suggestions for managing stress:

*Get proper amounts of regular sleep and reduce caffeine intake.

*Set aside time for regular exercise and personal leisure activities.

*Strive for a work/personal life balance.

*Develop civilian friendships so that not all socializing and conversation is “police-work” centric.

Additional resources for police officers to access in efforts to reduce and manage stress may be found at the following links:

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