Police Officers Occupational Stress

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Most jobs involve tasks that frequently lead to physical and mental exhaustion, particularly if the employee works for extended amounts of time. The protection of the workers from the devasting effects of these two conditions must be ensured by the stakeholders in these sectors. When it comes to handling issues that arise at work and offering ideal working circumstances, the employer is the key stakeholder. A higher frequency of stressful situations has been linked to the job that police officers in different departments do. To safeguard the officers and ensure that they can effectively carry out their duties, these call for specific mitigation. This essay will examine the various forms of stress that police officers have to deal with at work. It is also important that policymakers look at the lives if police officers at home. This is aimed at determining the contribution of various predisposing factors towards the buildup of their stress. A review carried out by Parsons (2004) on Canada, US and some European countries indicates that police officers exhibit some of the highest rates of depression, divorce, suicide, and disease. This is likely to be a result of an interplay between various personal and work-related issues. The essay will discuss how stress affects the job performance by officers and its impact on their personal lives. This information is important for police organizations. As employers, they are mandated to ensure that they help their members manage stress. The paper will come up with recommendations on what should be done to ensure that the police representatives are kept at work while minimising the effects of work-related and other forms of stress on them.

Reasons Behind Various Kinds of Stress

Police officers face different types of stress in the course of their work. This essay will categorize stress according to the stressors behind it. Different police officers undergo varying forms of stress. Those responsible for applying interventions have to consider these causes of stress. The first major from of stress for police officers is caused by isolation or the feeling of isolation. Officers have to spend a lot of time responding to people’s issues or performing routine tasks such as patrol. Most police departments in Canada have to ensure that they have personnel performing regular tasks throughout the day. For instance, police officers have to be in call centres and on patrol as a routine. In addition, the departments must ensure that they have personnel on standby to respond to distress from the members of the public. This means that police officers have little time left to make interact with family members and friends (Samak, 2003). This creates a feeling of loneliness that contributes towards stress buildup.

Lack of Trust and Support

Another key perspective in which stress can be evaluated is the attitude of the public towards the police forces. Police departments are created by governments to take care of the interests of the people from whom power is drawn. This makes the citizens paramount and police officers have to act according to their interests. However, in many societies there emerged a tendency where people considered police officers as enemies. The demonization of the officers went to an extend where those who collaborate with the police were deemed as traitors to the civilians. The “us versus them” mentality arose where the police representatives even became targets of verbal and physical attacks (Paoline, 2003). In other cases, individuals may exhibit open fear of police officers. For instance, foreigners or minorities may treat police with extra caution when they come in contact. This shows that they fear that the police may do to them some form of harm.

The society tends to forget that the police are individuals with feelings and emotions just like the rest of its members. The odd reactions and negative attitude shown towards police officers by the members of the society tends to isolate them from the rest of community members. Reicher (2004) notes that a good number of police officers believe that no one understands the nature of their job except their fellow police officers. Negative attitude towards the police tends to strain relations between the two. The public can withdraw or limit their cooperation with the police while attracting negligible or none consequences. On the other hand, the police are mandated by the law to ensure that they protect the civilians, whether they cooperate or not. The fact that the officer must serve the public despite the social isolation amounts to stress.

Traffic Stops

Traffic stops are some of the most common methods which police use to detect and catch up with traffic offenders and other types of criminals such as possession of drugs and firearms. However, this activity has been identified as one of the most common stressors for police officers (Anderson, 2002). An officer who stops an individual is likely to get three reactions from the stopped individual. The first reaction is where the individuals collaborate with the officer by answering relevant questions well and accepting whatever decision the officer makes. The individual may also come up with excuses to gain the sympathy of the police officer. In other cases, individuals try to demean police officers verbally or through other actions. In all these actions, an officer is expected to remain professional and friendly. There are many instances when police officers’ lives have been endangered when stopped individuals become violent. Therefore, the police face lots of dilemmas when doing traffic stops. They have to consider the individuals they interact with both as potential friends or enemies. This double situation acts as a stressor for police officers.

The Nature of Work

Police departments have both professional and military characteristics. Unlike navies, armies and air forces that mainly face enemies, police officers face clients who are the general public. These clients may eventually turn into an enemy. Police officers have to understand the interface between these two and apply their professional and military tactics where appropriate. A police officer first attends a college where he becomes licensed and receive endorsement from an agency. They are therefore expected to utilize the expertise earned in the course of their education to efficiently serve the client. In the military, the officers take orders from the chain of command. This is in contrast with police officers who have to make different decisions depending on the situation on the ground (He, 2002). Police officers often find themselves with little time to consult their seniors or even other officers. This level of discretion has both its advantages and disadvantages.

Having full discretion at their place of work amounts to a stressor for police officers. Armed forces have regulations, rules and orders to guide the actions of their servicemen. Officers under police departments are personally accountable for their actions. They have to get the facts and ensure that they meet the needs of people. There are times when the existing procedures cannot be used to respond to the needs of the people effectively (Anderson, 2002). Therefore, the officer is likely to follow his own judgement. This is usually a huge risk for them. In case their actions are able to secure the interests of people, the public and their seniors will deem it as part of their job. However, police officers are subject to disciplinary procedures where their actions result in unintended results. Probes have been opened and officers charged on the basis of the consequences of their actions, rather than the intention of the officer. Therefore, police officers carry out tasks that involve great risks, both to their jobs and their life. The uncertainty often results in stress and this may build up over time. This leads to job dissatisfaction and officers regret they joined the forces at all (Selokar et al., 2011).

Police-Population Ratio

Canada has made steps towards improving the conditions in which police officers work. However, the optimum has not been achieved. There are proofs in the study of Marchand et al. (2015) which show that many police officers suffer from stress due to the poor working conditions. One of the key aspects of working conditions is the police-population ratio. There is an imbalance in the ratio between the police officers and the populations they are to serve. For instance, at the end of 2015, there were 455 police officers for every 100,000 people in the Northwest Territories. In Prince Edward Island, there were only 154 police officers for every 100,000 people at the end of 2015 (Statistics Canada, 2017). Though it is likely that these regions have varying needs for law enforcement human resource, these parities are too wide. In addition, the population has been increasing faster than the number of additional police officers hired. In Prince Edward Island, for instance, the number of police officers per 10000 people in 2011 was 170. This means that an increase in population between the four years warranted that a total of 16 officers should be added into the bargain to those replacing retired or deceased officers to maintain the same ratio. Therefore, the burden on police officers has been increasing with time. They have to perform heavier duties and spend longer shifts on their job. The strain put on their minds and body results in stress.

Personal Lives of Police Officers and Stress

The personal lives of police officers have a great impact towards their physical and emotional wellbeing. It is important to note that some of the factors that affect them at the workplace extend to their homes. For instance, the police force is strained and the police have to spend more time and energy at the workplace. This means that they are left with little time for family. They may also be very tired by the time they arrive home and will not be so enthusiastic. This tends to strain their relations with other family members. Family relations are essential for enhancing happiness and relieving stress (Selokar et al., 2011). There are police officers who work beyond regular hours. This means that they have very little time to interact with their spouses, children and other members of the family. In addition, the other family members may feel overburdened by the responsibilities that the police officers fail to perform because of the tight work schedules. For instance, the spouse will have to take care of the house and the children. Such instances often amount to disagreements and even divorce. Police officers who intent to maintain good relationship with family members while performing the tasks assigned by the employer at the same time have to strain. In an effort to reserve enough time and resources for marital and family responsibilities, police officers will suffer from fatigue, insomnia and other conditions that lead to deterioration of their health (Bano, 2011).

How Stress Affects Job Performance and Personal Lives of Police Officers

Stress at the workplace leads to job dissatisfaction and burnout. This dissatisfaction mainly emanates from the inability of the officers to balance between work demands and their personal loves (Selokar et al., 2011). Work-life balance is a key aspect in any career. Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (2017) notes that about 70000 police in Canada and 860000 in the US are regularly under job-related stress. This stress puts them at higher risk of developing diabetes, stroke, heart diseases and other mental health conditions (Garbarino et al., 2013). The police are one of the employees that are most likely to commit suicide. A study in Canada revealed that about 40 percent of police officers are obese. The prevalence of obesity was higher among officers who have been in the service for at least 30 years (Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, 2017). This means that the impact of stress on police officers continues to build up as they get older. This is in contrast with the belief that the officers develop adaptation mechanisms towards stress in the course of their employment period.

Stress has affected police officers in a number of ways. Some officers tend to be aggressive and hostile to fellow employees in the department and the public who they are supposed to protect (Selokar et al., 2011). This results in poor performance at work. Some cases of police brutality and shootings can be connected to stress that accumulates in the course of work. The officers feel that no one understands them and takes it upon themselves to protect their wellbeing. This goes further in straining the relations between the officers, their bosses, colleagues, family members and the general public.

The Role of Police Departments in Stress Management

The culture in police service is not supportive towards the physical and mental wellbeing of the officers. Many police departments do not have mechanisms to protect their officers from the effects of stress. Police officers who show signs of stress risk losing their jobs or getting demotions. The culture in police departments requires that members must be resilient and do not show signs of stress even if they feel so. Officers who show signs also risk being neglected and looked down upon by their colleagues. This culture has been modelled by both senior and junior officers and passed over generations. The senior officers are unlikely to assist and accept those who show signs of stress. This makes them afraid of asking for help and continues their suffering in silence.


There is need that the curriculum for training police officers gives vast attention to the issue of stress at the workplace. The police officers and their seniors should first recognize that stress is a normal occurrence at the workplace that needs to be dealt with. The middle and upper management in police departments should also be taught to accept and support officers who show signs of stress. This will eliminate fear and encourage police officers to seek help at the personal level. Other ways to mitigate on the issue include helping officers attain a work-life balance. This can be achieved through good working conditions, better remuneration and reasonable time off work to enable the officers have a good social and family life.


Anderson, G. S., Litzenberger, R., & Plecas, D. (2002). Physical evidence of police officer stress. Policing: an international journal of police strategies & management, 25(2), 399-420.

Bano, B. (2011). Job stress among police personnel. IPEDR, 4, 290-3.

Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety. (2017). Study: Stress Another Hazard of the Job for Police Officers. Retrieved from CCOHS website: http://www.ccohs.ca/newsletters/hsreport/issues/2012/07/ezine.html.

Garbarino, S., Cuomo, G., Chiorri, C., & Magnavita, N. (2013). Association of work-related stress with mental health problems in a special police force unit. BMJ open, 3(7), e002791.

He, N., Zhao, J., & Archbold, C. A. (2002). Gender and police stress: The convergent and divergent impact of work environment, work-family conflict, and stress coping mechanisms of female and male police officers. Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management, 25(4), 687-708.

Marchand, A., Nadeau, C., Beaulieu-Prévost, D., Boyer, R., & Martin, M. (2015). Predictors of posttraumatic stress disorder among police officers: A prospective study. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 7(3), 212.

Paoline, E. A. (2003). Taking stock: Toward a richer understanding of police culture. Journal of criminal justice, 31(3), 199-214.

Parsons, J. R. (2004). 'Occupational Health and Safety Issues of Police Officers in Canada, the United States and Europe: A Review Essay'.

Reicher, S., Stott, C., Cronin, P., & Adang, O. (2004). An integrated approach to crowd psychology and public order policing. Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management, 27(4), 558-572.

Samak, Q. (2003). Correctional officers of CSC and their working conditions: A questionnaire-based study. Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN).

Selokar, D., Nimbarte, S., Ahana, S., Gaidhane, A., & Wagh, V. (2011). Occupational stress among police personnel of Wardha city, India. The Australasian Medical Journal, 4(3), 114–117. http://doi.org/10.4066/AMJ.2011.562

Statistics Canada. (2017). Police officers, by province and territory (Police officers per 100, 000 population). Retrieved from Statistics Canada database http://www.statcan.gc.ca/tables-tableaux/sum-som/l01/cst01/legal05c-eng.htm

July 15, 2023

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