Law enforcement officers deal with stressful situations in the normal course of their duties. Excessive stress on individual officers may impair his or her ability to carry out his or her responsibilities. In addition to the impact on individuals, excessive stress on officers means that the law enforcement organization he or she serve suffers a diminished capacity to serve the public. Therefore, in order to keep law enforcement organizations operating at optimal levels, administrators must be able to identify the causes of dysfunctional stress on individual officers and take effective action to reduce its effects. There are so many areas of stress that law enforcement individuals deal with, the ones that came to mind are: inadequate feedback to influence decision-making policies, uncertainty about the officer’s prescribed roles and duties, threats to the officer’s positive self-image, interdepartmental problems caused by internal politics, promotions, and favoritism, low pay, low workplace morale, the officer’s fear of doing “something wrong” and of being criticized or investigated and finally, the distress generated by shift changes often required by law enforcement scheduling causes both emotional and physical problems.
In my past law enforcement position, Telecommunications Operator (police dispatcher) I found the stress levels to be extremely negative on myself and coworkers. Our hours were long, the calls we took from our 911 line were oftentimes life threatening and the high turnover rate that we experienced added overtime, which was often mandatory which only increased the stress we were already trying to combat. A final area that telecommunication operators deal with is the stress within their agencies, “Many researchers have cited the inadequacy of two-way communications between the administration, supervisors, and line officers, in law enforcement, as a compelling internal stressor. ” (Duffee, 1979) If law enforcement employees cannot turn to their superiors within their agency, a lack of teamwork and employee morale may occur.
The proposed plan that I would recommend for Telecommunications Officers based on the experience I had while in that area of Law Enforcement would be to implement more stress management programs. I would also recommend that families of dispatchers and law enforcement employees be involved with some of the stress management programs as I believe that the stress is brought home by the dispatcher. This can only cause broken families and divorces.
Although most if not all law enforcement agencies have access to EAP programs (Employee Assistance Programs) I do not feel that the services these programs offer are extensive enough for the field of law enforcement. A survey conducted by Abt associates discovered that “interviews with nearly 100 people, including mental health practitioners, law enforcement administrators, union and association and almost 50 line officers and family members from both large and small agencies.” (Finn, Tomez, 1996) confirmed that stress with officers and dispatchers show the need for more stress programs that could be available to law enforcement and family members. There are outside resources, such as alternate counseling or outside programs that agencies could pay for in order to allow law enforcement employees to use without having to go through the EAP. Some law enforcement individuals feel awkward going through their own agencies programs due to confidentiality and the possibility of other officers or employees knowing that they are attending counseling through a job offered program.
Another area that could eliminate stress for officers is to reduce the stress within the agency itself. Some departments have documented substantial cost savings resulting from organizational changes. “The Mercedez, Texas, Police Department fields 25 sworn officers and serves a city of 14,000 residents. In 1986, the department reorganized to provide an employee development program that included establishing high professional standards, a reward system to promote superior performance, foot patrol assignments, and an increase in the annual in-service training requirement. In the 24 months following these changes, the department’s turnover rate fell from 38 percent to 7 percent. Administrators estimate that the reduced turnover has saved the department at least $53,000.7” (Finn, 1997) By rewarding employees and developing programs to recognize good performance the turnover rate reduced which also reduced stress levels within the agency.
The positive results from both the external stress programs and the internal reduction of stressful situations can help law enforcement personnel to continue maintaining their high- level of performance in the career they have chosen. Law enforcement officials want to do the best job possible and in order to do that they need resources that will give them the ability to do so. If an officer or dispatcher is free to attend an outside stress management program or counselor they may not feel as threatened.
The negative results from implementing these kinds of programs would be the continued budget issues that each agency would need to allocate to maintain these programs. Although if calculated each agency could save money by not having the high turnover rate that he/she may be currently experiencing. The other negative aspect could be convincing both upper management and officers/dispatchers that the outside programs could be more beneficial due to the programs providing more confidentiality and a more secure outside area for the individuals to be able to discuss their stressful situations.
The necessary resources to obtain outside programs would not affect the budgets to the extent that management may believe. Less money may need to be allocated to the EAP programs in order to encourage law enforcement officials to use the outside programs, but again money would be saved with the possibility of lower turn-over rates. The human resource departments would be affected only in the fact that they would need to help find appropriate outside programs. This would not cause that much more job responsibly for human resource departments.
With any kind of new program implementation, management would need to encourage and support both the program and their employees to participate. If management does not encourage or agree with the programs, law enforcement employees will notice this and will not believe in the programs. Employees tend to rely on the response they receive from upper management to decide on what they should do or not do.
In conclusion, law enforcement employees need to be given outside stress management programs other than the EAP programs in order to maintain healthy minds and healthy families. These programs need to be extended to all family members in order to make sure that not only law enforcement receives the help they need but that the families can get the same help. Law enforcement employees tend to take their stress home with them and if families can be equipped with ways on how to help their loved ones after the unique stressful situations they deal with, this will help both emotionally and physically for everyone involved. Although there would be additional funding needed from law enforcement agencies, in the end the funds would even out based on the fact that the high turnover rates would drop. Other departments within the agency would not be affected in such a way that would bring on any additional problems. Stress continues to be a major issue with law enforcement employees. Until we find other means for them to be able to deal with this issue, we will continue to have high turnover rates and more suicide deaths from law enforcement officials.
Duffee, D. “The Correctional Officer Subculture and Organizational Change.” Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, v. 11(1974):155-172.
Finn, Tomz, Peter, Julie (1996, December). Developing a Law Enforcement Stress Program for Officers and their families. Retrieved July 22, 2006, from ABT Associates Inc. Web site: http://www.abtassoc.com/reports/ES-stress-program.pdf#search=’policies%20for%20stress%20with%20law%20enforcement
Finn, Peter (1988, October). Reducing Stress: An Organization-Centered Approach. Retrieved July 23, 2006, from FBI Government Web site: http://www.fbi.gov/publications/leb/1997/aug975.htm