occupational stress in law enforcement – Effects of Stress on Law Enforcers and the Organization

A number of studies have assessed the outcomes of occupational stress on both the individual and the organization with respect to law enforcement. Gershon et al. (2009) for instance accessed impact of various stressors on potential health outcomes of urban police officers. The study recruited participants from Baltimore Police department during roll call sessions at every of the nine districts in the department and subjected them to a five-page 132-item survey questionnaire that addressed for main constructs guiding the study –  “police stressors, perceived work stress, coping strategies, and adverse outcomes” (Gershon et al., 2009, p.278). The study noted a number of adverse outcomes with respect to psychological, physical and behavioral symptoms. Psychological symptoms for instance included posttraumatic stress symptoms, somatization, burnout, anxiety, low energy, headaches and pressure in the head, stomach pains and self-blame (Gershon et al., 2009). The most common physical symptom on the other hand was chronic back pain with foot problems, migraines and chronic insomnia identified to affect the study sample at decreasing order of severity. The study also identified behavioral symptoms such as officers drinking more than they had planned and inception of smoking (Gershon et al., 2009). Such results evidence the adverse effects that occupational stress could have on law enforcers’ health thus affecting their performance.

To illustrate the adverse effects of police occupational stress on performance, Manzoni and Eisner (2006) evaluate the link between work related stress and use of force by police officers. The study hypothesized that either such violence could result from stress directly, or mediated by related factors such as job dissatisfaction, organizational lack of commitment and burnout (Manzoni & Eisner, 2006).  The study conducted a self-report survey in Zurich through written mail and obtained a 48% (474 questionnaires) response rate (Manzoni & Eisner, 2006).  Though the inclusion of multiple factors such as police profile rendered the relation between stress and use of force among police officers insignificant, initial bivariate analyses had suggested such a significant relationship to be present (Manzoni & Eisner, 2006). Earlier studies had however established a stronger link between occupational stress and tendency to use force by police officers. In an analysis of Dutch police officers, Kop and Euwema (2001) for instance found out significant relationship to exist between police burnout and inclination use of force. Such positive association of burnout and tendency to use force were also evident irrespective on whether the assessment was based on self-reported or observed use of force (Kop & Euwema, 2009). Such earlier studies suggest that the lack of association between stress and force in the recent study could arise out of methodological challenges. For instance, the recent study does not employ control subjects; a methodological challenge noted of studies conducted on police stress subjects (Malloy & Mays, 1984). The earlier study by Kop and Euwema (2009) however makes a comparative assay of law enforcement and other occupations to delineate aspects that may be specific to law enforces. Lack of such comparative studies is a weakness that limits the usability of early studies researching on the subject of police stress (Malloy & Mays, 1984).

Ultimately, the suggested adverse outcomes on individual law enforcers bear a significant implication for law enforcement organizations. The reduced performance noted of individuals for instance affect the efficiency of service delivery in these organizations. Similarly, dissatisfaction with work leading to individuals leaving the agencies could present significant staffing challenges for the organization. Finally the suggestion that police in stressful conditions could be inclined to use more force affects the image of the organization; a factor that could further turn out to be a source of additional stress (Collins & Gibbs, 2003). go to part 4 here.

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