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Stress: The Cop Killer (From Treating Police Stress: The Work and the Words of Peer Counselors, P 33-54, 2002, John M. Madonna, Jr. and Richard E. Kelly, -- See NCJ-197081)

NCJ Number
Patricia A. Kelly
Date Published
22 pages
After reviewing some of the causes and effects of stress for police officers, this chapter provides some guidelines for preventing and relieving such stress.
Police officers are exposed regularly to some of the worst in human behavior and human suffering. If this were not in itself sufficient stress, it is compounded by their sense of helplessness in being able to use their power and resources to make a visible difference in community safety and well-being. They are most often called after a victimization or a serious traffic accident has occurred. The arrest of an alleged offender is often followed by a plea bargain or an ineffective sentence that puts an offender back on the streets with little change in attitude or behavior. In addition to task-related stress, officers also experience stress in their interaction with the police organizational regimen and subculture. Female officers in particular face the stress of adjusting to an organization that has historically viewed women as incapable of police work. The visible costs of unrelieved and chronic job stress for police officers are high and measurable in absenteeism and disability statistics. A hidden cost involves disillusionments that develop into depression and despair and/or the "burnout" that seeks relief in alcoholism, pill-taking, or both. Prevention is an important aspect of avoiding the extreme effects of police officer stress. The screening out of job applicants who are likely to succumb to stress is important. Further, those who are selected to attend the police academy should receive instruction in ways to reduce the likelihood of being debilitated by pressure, how to manage it, and where to go if the effects of stress overwhelm personal resources for coping. It is important that police agencies develop an effective range of resources for helping officers deal with job-related and personal stressors and adopt and cultivate an organizational climate that encourages officers to seek help without any career-related consequences flowing from receiving beneficial mental health services.