Faculty Articles

Identifying law enforcement stress reactions, early

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FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin



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Critical incidents can negatively impact law enforcement officers. Organizational stressors, such as inadequate training, poor supervision, lack of recognition for superior job performance, perceived nepotism in awarding promotions and financial incentives, inadequate pay, and insensitivity to family or personal needs, often cause discord. Job stressors, such as long hours, “on call” status, and extended periods outside the home, can have adverse effects. Public scrutiny, media focus, and civil litigation can make difficult situations even more stressful. The confluence of all these different factors cause most law enforcement officers undue stress. Critical incidents leave some officers with acute stress disorder (ASD) or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and many more with transitory symptoms, such as sleeping difficulties, changed eating patterns, and muted emotional responses. Among law enforcement officers, job-related stress frequently contributes to suicide. Stress management appears to help because it focuses on the reactions that are internal and more subject to individual control. Stress management involves three distinct steps: understanding, recognizing, and coping. The critical task is to identify, as early as possible, when particular law enforcement officers incur an excessive stress reaction to numerous pressures confronting them. The Law Enforcement Officer Stress Survey (LEOSS) is a potential tool for agencies to employ in their efforts to help officers cope with job-related stress. This early screening tool may effectively and efficiently measure stress reactions by officers and could assist mental health practitioners in making timely, focused interventions. The survey may also aid law enforcement supervisors in formulating useful training programs.

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