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Stress originally came from the Latin word “strictus” meaning strict. Stress causes mental or physical tension or strain, which can deform a person. In a sense, stress causes a restrictive hold on the body and mind, which causes a person to act in ways that are out of the norm for them. Stress can be described as the force itself, meaning whatever is bringing the force upon a person. Police work is very stressful due to the pressures of the job, and strict legal limitations.
Many researchers have examined the basic stressors involved in policing. Violanti and Aron (1995) believe that there are two major categories mentioned by officers. These are organizational practices, and the inherent nature of police work (Spielberger, et al. 1981; Martelli et al. 1989; Violanti and Aron, 1995).
Police stress has been examined by a variety of researchers, Evans et al. (1992) has reviewed a range of research studies on the police personality and coping. Most of the reviewed research argues that police officers change their coping strategies and behaviors overtime, with some of these changes actually contributing to officers reported stress experiences and stress levels. In everyday work duties, police officers are involved in a number of activities that may be very stressful, and constant exposure to these stressful events possibly leads to a number of psychological and physical outcomes (Evans, et al. 1992).
Chan and Grossman (1988) studied the immediate effects of stressors which have shown that subjects report higher levels of helplessness and feelings of lack of control, and greater psychological distress including depression, anxiety, confusion and overall mood disturbances when they are stressed (Chan and Grossman, 1988). In longer terms, individuals may experience changes in their personalities, which reflect alterations of their typical coping strategies (Skolnick, 1973; Singleton, 1977).
In situations of extreme stress, officers may display the symptoms usually associated with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (Evans, et al. 1992). It is common for individuals who undergo a traumatic event to experience such emotional states such as fear, anxiety, guilt, depression, sadness, anger, and shock. Cognitive effects include difficulty with decision-making, concentration, and memory processes (Reiser and Geiger, 1984; Mitchell, 1988). More distressing symptoms of PTSD include nightmares, vivid flashbacks to the event, difficulties relating to others, self-destructive or aggressive rages, and fear of losing control (Evans, 1991).
Police officers also have a high rate of stress related illness.
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Much of the stress and the ability to handle it is determined by the police officers personality. American and Australian studies of police officers personality characteristics suggest that the majority of officers have a common sense approach to situations, are practical, and prefer a working environment that is routine, organized, and carefully regulated (Hanewicz, 1978). Researchers also have reported that police officers are typically suspicious, distant, cynical, and authoritarian (Balch, 1972; Radelet, 1973; Skolnick, 1973; Violanti and Marshall, 1983; Kroes, 1985). Stress can stem off of these personality traits because the police officer would be acting differently than every one around him or her.
The personality traits of cynicism, suspiciousness, and being distant are associated with the Type A behavior pattern (Rosenman, 1978; Jenkins, et al. 1979). Type A people typically see themselves as hard working, competitive, and intolerant of, and easily irritated by the actions of others. They like to rely on their own resources rather than working cooperatively, and they tend not to use available social supports (Rosenman, 1978; Diamond, 1982; Greenglass, 1988). Stress is more likely in Type A people because they try to handle the pressures of the job on their own, without any assistance.
Police officers grow very suspicious over the course of their careers. There is always the possibility of dangerous events occurring, which makes it necessary for officers to be alert to potential violence and danger. Right from the beginning with police training, the officers are taught to react automatically with care and suspicion (Kroes, 1985). Police officers also become distant, by emotionally detaching themselves from being unsympathetic to the people they come into contact with. Becoming distant may develop as a means of coping with stressful occupational activities (Besner and Robinson, 1982; Violanti and Marshall, 1983). Cynicism, which is being doubtful of human sincerity and goodness, is also a trait police officers’ may develop. Authoritarianism develops from the police officers dominance and assertiveness, which are traits they display consistently given their job duties (Niederhoffer, 1967; Fabricatore, 1978). Numerous studies have suggested that many police officers develop these personality traits on the job as a means of coping with stressful aspects of their work (Hillgren and Bond, 1975; Besner and Robinson, 1982; Violanti and Marshall, 1983; Lawrence, 1984).
In a study done by Evans et al. (1992), it was hypothesized that officers with the greatest length of service would show less anxiety and greater incidence of Type A behaviors based on suspiciousness, hostility, and being distant, compared with officers with fewer years of service (Evans, et al. 1992). The study was designed to categorize the stressors of police work, officers coping strategies, measures of mood and psychological functioning, and health status (Coman, 1990).
This study confirmed that there are differences between the temperaments and behaviors of groups of police officers with different lengths of service. The differences were most obvious when the officers has served more than 12 years. These officers generally display Type A personality behaviors. The longer the officers were in service, the more distant, cynical, and suspicious they had become. As discussed earlier, this causes stress because the officers are relying solely on themselves for their sanity, they are not receiving any sort of comforting or reassurement to make the job a little easier and less stressful.
Police work is more stressful than practically all other occupations, due to the fact that the stress comes from the dangers and repeated encounters with violent people and victims of violence (Conroy and Hess, 1992; Fell, et al. 1980; Reiser and Geiger, 1984). Police officers have been said to suffer high rates of alcoholism, divorce, and suicide as a result of job stress (Heiman, 1975; Maslach and Jackson, 1981; Nelson and Smith, 1970).
A study done by Storch and Panzarella (1996) combined a standardized measure of stress with a questionnaire about job stressors, individual job and career variables, and personal variables. The most consistent among these stressors are organizational variables. Examples of organizational variables are personnel policies, relationships with superiors, and working conditions, as well as the public, media, and legal system. Organizational stressors in police work are lack of promotional opportunity and, actual promotion (Kroes, 1983). Data from the Storch and Panzarella (1996) study of police officers show the average levels of state anxiety and trait anxiety among police officers are not high (Kroes, 1983; Spielberger, 1983).
The survey was done anonymously; it was distributed through the police department’s in-house mailboxes. A stamped envelope addressed to the researcher was given to each officer, so when they finished filling it out, it could be mailed directly to the researchers. The results were based on the responses of seventy-nine officers. All of the officers who responded were male, and the average age was thirty-five. There was no difference between the stress measures in any of the three police departments, even though the economic statuses were very different. Out of the three police departments the general economic level of the first city being studied was considered depressed. The second city was described as generally middle income. The third city was middle to upper income people. Organizational factors, for example, bad bosses and administrators, poor work schedules and fellow officers were the key stressors in police work, as opposed to the dangerousness of the work (Storch and Panzarella, 1996). Storch and Panzarella found that even though police work includes moments of high stress, they want it to be made aware that these moments are rare. For the most part officers work their regular shifts without any traumatic or dramatic events occurring.
Stress in police work may be hard to measure. The perception of the officer may be an important factor that should be examined. Sigler et al. (1991) examined the perceptions of police officers compared to teachers in three communities. This was done in order to examine the differences in perceived occupational stress and for differences in the patterns of perceived job stress, perceived non-job stress, and both perceived job and life stressors.
There are a number of situations in police work that produce stress on the officers. Many police officers throughout their careers do not come into contact with any great deal of danger, but it is something they have to anticipate every time they answer a call. A major source of stress can come from the decisions they make, due to the fact that some are extremely critical, and the officer has little time for deliberation.
The administration and structure of police organizations has been found to be a primary source of stress for police officers. The stress-producing characteristics of police organizations include: 1) leaders, who are products of closed promotional systems, 2) limited mobility and promotional opportunity, 3) traditionally conservative administrative structures, 4) limited training, equipment, financial resources, and salaries, and 5) unclear policies for rewards, promotions, and career development (Kroes, et al, 1974).
Like police officers, teachers are expected to accomplish their tasks with limited resources (Hodge and Marker, 1978), and they receive, for the most part, low salaries (Grossnickle, 1980). The primary sources of stress for teachers include relationships with colleagues, administrative staff, clerical staff, and students (Hodge and Marker, 1978).
Sigler, et al. (1991) hypothesized that police officers experience higher level of stress than other occupational groups. This was tested by comparing police officers with another high stress occupational group, teachers. Sworn officers and administrators of police departments and the teachers and administrators of the high schools in three cities made up the sample population in this study. Questionnaires were administered to all of the members in each of the populations listed above by delivery to their place of employment. The teacher received them in their mailboxes, and the officers received them during roll call. The police department returned 190 of the 619 questionnaires, and 270 of the 957 were returned by the school (Sigler, et al. 1991).
The two groups differed on several demographic variables: age, education, sex, salary, and length of time employed in the field and in their current positions. For the total sample the relationships between job type and both perceived job stress and perceived life stress were not significant. The authors of this article found support through this survey that police experience higher levels of job stress than teachers do. Both are stressful jobs that should develop some sort of intervention and treatment, or develop coping skills for dealing with the factors that cause stress (Sigler, et al. 1991).
Officers often view their organization as non-supportive and unresponsive to employee needs. A few of the areas which cause distress within a department are the authoritarian structure, lack of participation in decisions affecting daily work tasks, lack of administrative support, a punishment centered philosophy, and unfair discipline (Kroes, 1986; Ellison and Genz, 1983; Reiser, 1974; Kelling and Pate, 1975). Violanti and Aron (1995) examined and ranked factors in police work, which may be perceived by officers as stressful. They examined the perceptions of stressors among various police ranks, time in service, age, and race (Violanti and Aron, 1995).
Stressors are factors in the police environment external to the officers and subjectively perceived as being bothersome or frustrating (Lazarus, 1981). There were two major stressors measured in the Police Stress Survey: 1) organizational and administrative factors and 2) inherent police work factors. Examples of the organizational factors include: court decisions restricting police, assignment of disagreeable duties, lack of recognition for good work, disagreeable department regulations, lack of participation in job decisions, and excessive inappropriate discipline. Examples that reflect inherent stressors include: responding to a felony in progress, high speed chases, dealing with crises, physical attack, and the death of injury of other officers (Violanti and Aron, 1995).
The survey by Violanti and Aron (1995) revealed that the highest ranked stressor was experiencing a fellow officer being killed, and killing someone in the line of duty. The effects of these two events are a heightened sense of danger after the event, anger, flashbacks, isolation, emotional numbing, sleep difficulties, and depression (Violanti and Aron, 1995). Another form of stress is organizational stress. The highest ranked organizational stressor was shift work. This is a source of stress because rotating shifts may affect sleep patterns, eating habits, family life, and psychological well being (Kroes and Hurrell, 1975; Davidson and Veno, 1980; Violanti, 1984). Following this was inadequate support, incompatible patrol partner, insufficient personnel, excessive discipline, and inadequate support of supervisors (Violanti and Aron, 1995).
Stress on a police officer due to shift work was also examined by Golembiewski and Kim. Police officers complain that it disrupts their family life and may also affect their job performance. Shift work entails four stress-related outcomes among police. The out comes include marital problems, suicide, alcoholism, and physical symptoms (Golembiewski and Kim).
Determining what causes stress in the work place is the first step in attempting to correct the problem. The police organizations can only benefit from trying to correct this problem. It may help avoid the negative psychological effects that stressors impact on workers health, morale, and productivity (Violanti and Aron, 1995).
Abernethy and Cox (1994) discussed why police officers lose their temper, and how to deal with stressful situations more efficiently. Anger, defined by Spielberger et al. (1985), is an emotional state that varies in intensity from mild irritation to fury and rage. Hostility is an attitude such as resentment and chronic anger that motivates aggressive behavior. Aggression is the destructive or punitive behaviors directed towards other people or objects (Abernethy and Cox, 1994). Two primary motivations for aggression: angry and instrumental instigation, are defined by Megargee (1985). Angry instigation involves the conscious or unconscious desire to hurt someone, while in instrumental instigation, aggression is used as a means to an end.
Abernethy and Cox (1994) conducted an experiment with the officers from the Rochester Police Department. The officers were assigned to the training or control groups. Several measures were tested including angry mood (McNair et al. 1971), angry state which assessed state and trait anger and three additional scales including anger-in, anger-out and anger expression. Also tested were performance variables, Anger Management Training Module, and there was a mental health course.
Treatment differences were found for the use of force arrests and angry mood. The experiment revealed that individuals who frequently experience anger and frustration tend to express their anger in aggressive behavior directed towards other people or objects. The officers reported that training from the Anger Management Training Module increased their awareness of anger. If this training module is developed further, it will provide research in anger management, performance, and health in law enforcement personnel (Abernethy and Cox, 1994).
Police officers in the field are not the only officers to experience stress. Executives of police agencies are also affected by stress and this was researched by Crank, et al. (1993). Crank, et al. (1993) investigated role-stress among executives of municipal and county police agencies. Role stress is the type of stress that derives from characteristics of occupational roles that promote the onset and maintenance of stress (Hall, 1992). The main concern of research into role stress is investigating the circumstances to perceptions of stress (Newton and Keenan, 1987).
Municipal and county police departments are very complex. Municipal chiefs are responsible for law enforcement as well as the maintenance of public order, the prevention of crime, and service in problems related to crime and victimization. Sheriffs provide countywide law enforcement and they may be responsible for county corrections and serve as officers of the court (Walker, 1991). Municipal chiefs, for the most part, are appointed officials. Sheriffs are elected every four years, and because of this they are not under the same day to day accountability as higher municipal administrators (Crank, et al. 1993).
The executives education has a direct effect on role stress which comes from the skills and knowledge that provide an executive to cope with the complexities of leadership and administration of a large organization (Beehr, 1976). In external versus internal hiring, it is hypothesized that chiefs hired from the outside would experience greater levels of role stress than those promoted from the inside. A chief hired from the outside must find support in an unfamiliar organization. Control over the hiring procedures hypothesizes that increases in a chief’s perception of control over hiring policies would be inversely related to perceptions of role stress. Length of service hypothesizes that role stress would be higher before the end of the first four years, than after the first four years (Crank, et al. 1993)
Individuals who have a high degree of work autonomy are less likely to experience role strain (Beehr, 1976). Autonomy is negatively related to role stress and stress related constructs. The hypothesis in decision making autonomy was that chiefs perceptions of autonomy in making decisions would be inversely associated with role stress (Crank, et al, 1993).
Data for the survey by Crank, et al. (1993) was obtained from two samples. The city police chiefs’ data was obtained from a national sample of 1,120 police chiefs. Random sampling was used to select the police chiefs. Data for the county sheriffs was also obtained from a national sample; random sampling was also used to select the sheriffs (Crank, et al. 1993).
There were many predictors that were involved in the Crank, et al. (1993) study. The predictors include position, educational attainment, external versus internal hiring, control over hiring procedures, decision-making autonomy, and length of service. These particular predictors were selected because they have substantive interest in the field of policing.
Crank, et al. (1993) explored the relationship between work-stress and police stress. This study supports the idea that education may make a difference in the psychological well-being in positions of leadership in police agencies. It was also found that sheriffs have higher levels of stress than chiefs, which was not what was expected earlier in the study.
Differences have been found in police behavior and attitudes for officers in larger departments as compared to smaller ones (Brown 1981; Matrofski, et al. 1987; Meyers, et al. 1987; Powell 1990). Large departments are usually paramilitary and bureaucratic agencies (Bittner 1970; Manning 1977; Kroes 1986). This type of setting can be stressful due to the fact that the officer’s perception of the agency is self-serving and unresponsive. Brooks and Piquero (1998) examined department size and its effect on stress. Police officers in ten police departments were given a voluntary, anonymous survey, dealing with stress in policing. The size of the sample was 2,316, and the response rate was at 55 percent overall. Officers from a small and medium sized agency are compared with officers from larger agencies. Officers from the larger agencies report a higher level of stress from administrative factors. Officers from large departments have lower stress for dealing with suffering than do officers from smaller agencies (Brooks and Piquero 1998). Brooks and Piquero (1998) found that size of a police agency plays a role in stress. It looks as though officers from large police departments may experience higher stress levels relating to administrative stress, stress from the criminal justice system, and stress from personal demands.
One controversy in understanding police stress is in the ability to measure it. Lord et al. (1991) conducted a study to measure the effectiveness of the Police Stress Inventory, and to evaluate it concurrent and discriminate validity (Lord, et al. 1991). Data was collected from 259 North Carolina law enforcement officers. Their work experience ranged from one to over ten years. Educational level ranged from high school through graduate work, with a median range of associates’ degree. The median age group was 31 to 35 years old (Lord, et al. 1991).
Lord, et al. (1991) evaluated a scale designed to measure job stress among law enforcement officers and has attempted to apply empirical research to an area that relies mainly on anecdotal evidence. The occupational stress study in high stress occupations, like law enforcement, is an important area of research, which can have serious implications for policy and practice. Before doing anything it is necessary to be sure that stress is what is being measured in order to possibly reduce or eliminate the causes of stress, and prepare workers to deal with its effects.
There are many factors contributing to stress of a law enforcement officer. These factors include on the job stress, or departmental stress, and also questions such as was the officers born with it, and/or is it brought upon by the job itself? These are a few areas that could be researched and the answers to the questions can be obtained. There are a variety of ways to test and do research on these issues. My proposal will take a little different approach in conducting the research to find some of the answers to these questions.
Police officers can experience stress from a variety of different things. An officer can be stressed with the job itself, or it can also come from within the department. On the job stress can be caused by a number of different things. An example of this is every time an officer answers a call, he or she has to treat that call like it could be a dangerous situation. The pressure the officers put on themselves day in, and day out takes a toll mentally and physically. Fortunately, the majority of the calls police officers answer are not dangerous.
Probably the most stressful situation in a police officers career would be if that officers had almost died, or if and officers partner had died. When an officer is hired within a station and that officer is assigned a partner, that is the person that they are going to spend a majority of their time with. Now if their partner dies, it is going to hit them harder than anyone else. There have been many instances in which an officer’s partner had died and the officer could never function the same way again. The stress on that individual officer was just too much to handle. The first thing the officer would do is blame themselves, thinking that they could have done something to prevent it, when in reality it is unlikely that the officer could have done anything. In the majority of the cases the officers do not go back to work, and they just feel like it is impossible to go on. This is the number one reason for police suicide. One of the options police departments should offer their officers is someone to talk to if a particular officer is having a problem with something. One of the major problems with police departments is that all of the officers are kind of expected to have a hard attitude. This makes the officers feel like when there is a problem they should handle it themselves, instead of talking it out with someone, which is usually the best remedy for problems.
Departmental stress is completely different from on the job stress. Departmental stress has to do with things within the police department itself. Examples of this include officers’ supervisor, other officers, or something called shift work. Shift work is when an officer is on one shift and then they get moved to another shift. Officers say that it disrupts their family life, as well as their job performance. An officer can be overtired and not feeling up to par, which can effect his or her decisions. If an officer makes the wrong decision the police department is going to come down hard on that particular officer, which is obviously going to cause stress to that particular officer. If the officer has family stress than that will be brought to the job and could influence decisions made on the job.
Stress can be caused by a number of different things. This study is designed to explore the officers’ point of view on the subject of stress. The research is going to discover whether the majority of the officers feel stress from the department in which they are employed or if the job itself is more stressful. This research would also discuss ways to cope with stress, as well as better ways to handle stressful situations.
The data will be gathered by means of an anonymous survey. The survey will included demographic data, questions about family, how often the officer thinks about injury, what is the officer’s current assignment, what the officer likes or dislikes about being a police officer. Also, the likes and dislikes of the officer’s current assignment, and what the officers expect when they retire.
The survey will be distributed to two different police departments. The first department is the Amherst Police Department. Seventy-five officers from Amherst will be chosen to anonymously complete this survey. The Amherst community contains middle to upper income citizens. The second department will be the Buffalo Police Department. One hundred fifty officers will also be chosen anonymously to complete this survey. The Buffalo community is described to have low to upper income citizens. There is a difference in the amount of officers surveyed within each department because of the department size.
I will be randomly sampling the officers for this survey. In both Amherst and Buffalo, there are three shifts. The shifts include the morning shift (7am-3pm), the afternoon shift (3pm-11pm), and the night shift (11pm-7am). In each department before each shift there is a briefing session. During the briefing, the officers are informed of events on what to expect on their shift, or certain things to look out for. This is when I will administer the surveys randomly. This is an obtrusive measurement, meaning the officers are aware they are being studied.
As already stated, I am doing an anonymous survey. This type of survey will ensure the officers that the information that was given on the survey will not be passed on to their chief or captains, and none of the information will be put into their records.
The primary advantage to using an anonymous survey is that I can get all of the information I need, as long as the officers will take the time to fill out the survey. I will have no idea as to which survey belongs to whom, so there will be no bias against any single individual. The primary disadvantage is getting the officers to fill out the survey. An officers might not fill out the survey if he or she is worried about their superiors finding out what they put on the survey, this will cause unnecessary validity problems.
There are a few ethical and political considerations within this study. The ethical dilemma is due to the type of question on my survey. There are personal questions which could make the officers feel uncomfortable for a variety of reasons. Even though the survey is anonymous the officer might be fearful of someone seeing what he or she wrote. The officer might feel embarrassed about his or her answers, or it may hit a little closer to home for the officers, and may bring up some bad feelings. When asking anyone personal questions about themselves there is always the possibility of ethical dilemmas. Political dilemmas include problems with the higher ranking officials. If my study finds that the police organization causes more stress on the officers than the actual police job itself, the police agency may have to figure out a way to correct the problems. If the officers are aware of this then they might demand more from their agency, which intern causes stress to the higher ranking officials, especially the chief.
Internal validity problems include selection bias, and maturation. Selection bias may occur due to the fact that I am picking the officers at random. The officers who are most likely to fill out my survey are the younger officers. If it happens by chance that I randomly pick officers with more time on the force, and they have no interest in my survey or my study, then this causes and internal validity problem. Maturation my become a problem if the officers decide that my survey is pointless, and they become bored with it. I am trying to control for this problem by giving the officers an incentive with the movie tickets and the letter from the chief.
External validity brings up the issue of generalizability. I have to make sure that the research I am collecting will be able to be used by other researchers in future studies about police stress. I do not want this study to only benefit the Amherst and Buffalo police departments.
My proposal is to find out the main cause of police stress, whether it is job stress or organizational stress. In finding out this information I hope police agencies will take corrective measures in fixing the problem at hand. Police agencies should offer assistance to officers who are in need of it, and it should not be thought of as a bad thing to need help. If agencies can correct these problems than the officers performance on the job should improve. Everyone has to work together to get good results.
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