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Stress is defined as the negative response of mind and body towards external or internal pressures/stressors (Miller, 2006). The concept of stress is too wide as it occurs in various forms and occupations. Policing is one of the most stressful professions not only in America, but also in the world as a whole. The day-to-day life of the police involves fighting and apprehending criminals, responding to family and merchants disputes, searching for the lost individuals, making traffic stops, quelling the rioting groups among others (Dempsey & Forst, 2012). This paper seeks to discuss in detail the causes of police stress and its effects. Lastly, the paper will address the possible ways of alleviating the police stress.

According to the research done by the Buffalo Cardio-Metabolic Occupational Police Stress (BCOPS), police occupation is the profession with the highest rates of suicide, high divorce rates and high rates of alcoholism (Hart, Wearing, & Headey, 2011). Most of the psychological stress researchers use suicide, divorce and alcoholism to gauge the level of stress that police officers struggle with. Whereas every person is subject to stress, police officers are more affected than other people. This is caused by various issues and circumstances relating to the work environment of police officers. Such issues include but not limited to long irregular working hours, daily exposure to dangerous missions and at times dealing with suspicion, and high public expectation of safety (Hart et al., 2011). These can be termed as external and internal pressures responsible for risks related to stress.

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Causes of Police Stress. Police officers are always exposed to various activities or pressures which have adverse effects on their daily function and operations. These circumstances translate into stressors that affect the psychological well-being of police officers.

Lack of Positive Reward and Low Salary. The police officers are engaged in tough and difficult job of policing. The salaries offered to police officers in every country are not proportional to their workload. In the U.S., for example, the police officers’ salaries range from $ 49,421 for the police corporal to $ 113, 930 for the police chief (Gaines & Worrall, 2012). This amount of money is considered less as compared to the police officer’s personal and household needs. With the low pay, police officers may not be able to cater for the basic needs of their families. This adds to psychological stress among police officers. Low pay may lead to corruption among the representatives of police.

The residential places of the police officers are also not well furnished. Their sleeping place is pathetic and leaves a lot to be desired. When the police officers are sent to do an operation in various houses, they tend to compare themselves with the owners of these houses (Gaines & Worrall, 2012). When they find that the living standards of these people supersede their own, they tend to have psychological stress resulting from feeling of inadequacy and improper support from the government. Desire to live a life of comfort similar to other civilians’ causes police aggression. This is the case in situations when this desire cannot be fulfilled.

Police officers are rarely rewarded for their outstanding performance at work. One police officer can work for several years in the same rank before being promoted to a higher rank, unless in the cases of corruption (Paton, 2009). Even in moments when the police are involved in extremely risky security undertakings, they are not rewarded accordingly and given risk allowances commensurate with their work. This causes stress, depression and burnout on the part of police officers.

Administrative Policies and Procedures. Administrative policies and procedures can be another cause of stress among police officers. To worsen the situation, police officers are not always consulted, or they rarely participate in the formulation of the administrative policies and procedures (Paton, 2009). Constant internal investigation practices send the signals of lack of trust (Hart et al., 2011). It is also essential to note that even when an officer is off duty, he/she is still under a thorough watch by the patrol officers. Therefore, they tend to feel as if their lives have been confined by these patrol officers, and they do not have any room to enjoy their freedom and liberty out of duty.

 Police officers are trained to take rigid rules and orders from higher officers. They are not allowed to question any given instruction (Hart et al., 2011). On the other hand, their bosses expect them  to effectively and appropriately apply these rigid rules and regulations in their daily work. This has led police officers to feel deprived of their rights even in comparison with that of the criminals they do apprehend (Dempsey & Forst, 2012). This kind of administrative policies and procedures has left police officers with many unaddressed questions in their minds. When these questions accumulate in the mind of the police officer, they trigger police stress.

Dangerous Missions. The law enforcement work is characterized by frequent death incidents. Police officers are vulnerable when dealing with criminal gangs. Gang robbers are fond of carrying guns and other deadly weapons. When they come across police officers, they do not spare them. It is an exchange of gun fires and explosives (Dempsey & Forst, 2012). There are a lot of cases when police officers fall casualties in the process of gun fires with gangs. Police officers have no option other than to engage in the risky activities as these. Officers engaged in the homicide and sex crimes investigations, undercover narcotics investigations and capital crimes investigations are always in danger of being killed or having to kill others while doing the job (Gaines & Worrall, 2012). All these experiences are triggers for psychological emotional disturbances that result in severe stress levels accumulating in the long term.

Police officers are exposed to frequent experience and encounter with death and related incidences. Such stressful encounters include road accidents, fire tragedies, and water casualties. These catastrophic events lead to psychologically traumatic incidences among police officers (Miller, 2006). In addition, they are engaged in extracting dead bodies from graves and fetching the bodies that have stayed for long in open places. These are pathetic scenes and neither pleasing to the eye nor fit for psychological well-being of police officers. Nonetheless, the police still hesitantly do the work, since it is their responsibility.

In the recent past, it has been noted that these traumatic events has led to the rise in violence and psychological problems among police officers (Miller, 2006). Besides, these traumatic incidences may further result in the chronic state of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Police officers suffering from this kind of traumatic disorders often develop fear and stress. In turn, these officers can release their stress on their spouses, children or even innocent people in the public.

Criminal Justice System. Criminal justice practices have been identified as contributing to police stress. The court decisions and activities tamper with the police officers’ daily assignments. In some instances, the courts acquit arrested offenders of any wrong-doing, although the police have filed convincing and adequate evidence for crimes committed. Such persons then engage in continuous offenses, which the police have to deal with. The process of arresting offenders frequently, as they are set free, is not only frustrating, but also discouraging to the police (Miller, 2006). Unfavorable court’s decision to release offenders on bail, irregular postponement of cases, probation or parole and perceived court delays have severely affected regular police operations (Miller, 2006).

Public Practices. The attitude and perceptions of the public towards the police also contributes towards police stress. For example, the constant negative view and unfavorable media news on accounts of the police force adversely affect police operations. Lack of positive public support and attitude pits the police against the public and, consequently, leads to uneasy relationships. This contributes to the rise of police stress and burnout in some instances, especially due to persistent frustrations resulting from a pessimistic public attitude towards police work and operations (Miller, 2006).

Moreover, police officers have been accused of racism. It is worth noting that not all of them have engaged in racial discrimination in the course of executing their duties. However, in most occasions there are generalizations that the police are racial in executing their duties. Such generalization not only creates an infavourable image of policing, but also causes frustrations of the police who have to bear with this negative image and tag even as they offer their services. This partly contributes to police stress (Gaines & Worrall, 2012).

Long Term Injuries. For the cases of gun exchange incidences, an officer might be injured in the process. The injury can persist and prevent an officer from his/her normal duties. Consequently, an officer will nurse the injury but with psychological stress. The stress is more advanced in cases of permanent disabilities than just a temporary injury (Gaines & Worrall, 2012).

However, women and minority officers can experience an additional stress. Women and minority police officers may face disapproval from the public and their fellow officers. The ability of women to handle emotional, mental and physical rigors associated with the policing profession has largely been questioned (Gaines & Worrall, 2012). On the other hand, minority officers are sidelined and overlooked by other officers which creates difficult working conditions for police officers.

The Effects of Police Stress. Prolonged period of severe stress can cause ulcers, depression and burnout. When such complications develop, the police may be rendered unable to deliver on their duties effectively. Stress has many effects on individual police officer and even his/her family. This section of the paper discusses the effects of police stress. To begin with, police stress often leads to post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD). Police PTSD is the worst effect of police stress, since other adverse effects such as suicide, homicide or divorce revolve around it. Post-traumatic stress disorder is characterized by both physical and physiological alterations in the daily functions of a person’s life (Miller, 2006).

Psychologically, post-traumatic stress disorders can make a police officer develop an “I do not care” attitude which might cause him/her to kill more people, including his/her own family or even him/herself. Physiologically, it might cause anxiety, depression and irritability (Miler, 2006). Further, PTSD can also cause a police officer to distance himself from family, friends and other close persons. He or she can either revert to life-threatening activities or totally become insane man or a woman. 

High blood pressure is a common effect of police stress. Policing work is a mentally stressing work that exposes an officer to health dangers. The results from Violanti’s pilot studies have shown that the stressed police officers have higher cholesterol levels which are hazardous to personal health. This, in turn, causes breathing problems which eventually result in high blood pressure (Gaines & Worrall, 2012). High blood pressure can lead to other health problems or complications such as cardiac arrest.

Police stress impacts negatively on their families, as well. Most investigations have reported a higher rate of divorce cases among the police officers with 60 to 75% divorce cases nationwide. Hart (2011) asserts that irregular work schedules and emergencies for police officers have often adversely affected the scheduling of family events that would tighten family bonds. Furthermore, night shifts have limited the time an officer may spend with his/her spouse. This increases infidelity and, eventually, leads to divorce.    

Stressed police officers frequently commit suicide. Studies have shown that police officers are prone to suicide than all other state employees. A lot of pressure and excessive job demands are responsible for such consequent cases. Besides, police officers are often subjected to criticism and even bear responsibility for insecurity in their areas of operation (Paton, 2009). In addition, loneliness and prolonged state of solitude put most police officers at the risk of committing suicide (Gaines & Worrall, 2012). Besides, internal conflicts among the officers themselves may also lead to suicide (Paton, 2009).

There is a link between job stress and excessive alcoholism. Employees who are stressed due to work load are likely to resort to drinking alcohol or use other illegal drugs as their best way of alleviating stress (Paton, 2009). This is also applicable in the police occupation. When police officers are stressed up due to excessive work, they will tend to use such immediate stress relievers as alcohol, cigars and other illegal drugs (Paton, 2009). In a separate study by BCOPS, Patons (2009) demonstrates that guilt among the police officers, insomnia, nightmares, anxiety and fear often expose them to suicidal risks.

Dealing with Police Stress. Police stress can be alleviated through guidance and counseling interventions. Family issues, such as divorce and relationship breakups, can best be handled through psychological guidance and counseling sessions. Most spouses do not understand the law enforcement department. Therefore, they require psychologists and chaplains to enlighten them about the challenges and difficulties that police officers encounter in the course of their duties.

Police department, through their chief officers, can organize the family seminars and conferences for the families of police officers. Police appreciation dinners with their families within the department sponsored by law enforcement department can vastly contribute towards uniting these families and hence decreasing the marriage breakups and divorces. Such sessions can be used to train family members on how to relate to their family members working in the police force and how to accommodate and cope with their stressing and challenging occupation.

Training and perfecting the communication skills of the chief police can help in dealing with police stress. Poor communication and oppressive orders to police officers cause a substantial percentage of police stress. Public outlook of the police officers may also be changed through constant and persuasive communication. This can only be achieved when senior officers practice effective communication techniques whenever they are issuing commands.


In conclusion, police officers are key persons in the law enforcement department in any country. Therefore, all the effort should be directed towards reducing stress among police officers. In order to achieve this, the root causes of police stress must first be identified. Most incidents of stress in the police force relate to their work environment. Any meaningful intervention against police stress must thus begin with addressing challenges that police officers face in the course of their duties. Further, police officers should be encouraged to share their emotions with counselors or any other immediate person. They should also be encouraged to do physical exercise and sometimes just relax and take a rest. It might take a country billions of money to combat police stress, but the outcomes of this initiative would be more enjoyable than the input and investment in a stress-free police force.

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