If you don’t have any friends or family in the law enforcement profession you may not be aware of the burden and stress that police work can sometimes bring upon an officer. Every year there is more research done on the effects that police work can bring upon an individual, and thus help in the form of counseling. Police officers can often find it difficult to come home from a tough day at work and tell friends and family about their day because the officer thinks people will either not understand or out of fear of possibly contaminating the non-police family life. After prolonged exposure to harsh conditions as work (depressing, negative situations) an officer can suffer from what is termed “compassion fatigue”. When an officer is suffering from this they can often seem distant to those closest to them. There is a term call “Kevlar skin” that refers to an officer suppressing his/her emotions and thoughts possibly because of the aforementioned reasons. Research has also indicated that police officers can also start to suffer over time to adrenaline spikes due to the nature of their duty. Effects can be physical, emotional and psychological which makes counseling services all the more legitimate and important.
Officers are human beings after all, and human beings can falter even if they are professionals in their field. If the right kind of counseling is not available to them, events like the video below can occur. Think of all the times you’ve heard stories of police brutality. Can you think of why that would happen? Inept cops? Racism? Sexism? Stress? How many of those instances could have been avoided with proper treatment of and officer who needed help? When a police officer snaps like this, it is a mar on the image of the entire police department. It is something that needs to be addressed and held at the forefront in every police department.
Some police departments may offer some sort of training on coping with critical events while on duty but I think it’s time as future criminal justice professionals to hold it to a higher standard and realize that this is a serious issue that police officers face and that very few on the outside understand. Many police departments have been forced to reduce the size of the police force because their budget has been cut which might also mean that they cannot afford to provide officers with an organized system of support. One cost effective and simple method of treatment is called internal peer counseling teams. Sometimes all an officer needs is someone to talk to; someone who he/she can relate with in a professional way and who will listen to them and understand their problems. This form of therapy may very well already exist unofficially within many departments but I think that the department should regulate it so that it is more organized, beneficial, and so every officer who wants to take advantage of it has the opportunity to. There are many occupations involving great deals of stress such as the military, nursing, even teaching, but as criminal justice students we must focus our attention on the causes and cures of the stress and burdens related to police work in order to keep the profession moving along an upward and positive track.