"To Protect and To Serve" … "Duty, Honor, Country."
Ours is the best job in the world. However, no place in these oaths does it say anything about how we take care of ourselves while we protect and serve. The culture of the civilian world is very different from the culture of the law enforcement world. The difference is so profound that the new recruit is not always prepared for a culture that does not easily lend itself to teaching how to protect oneself from the damaging effects of stress.
An article by Leah Cook from San Jose State University clearly describes the ways we move our recruits into the law enforcement world. "The uniform, the 'duty' belt, and the marked cruiser are just a few of the ways we say we are different." If recruits are not careful they slowly trade in their civilian families for their new police families. This is never a good idea. Our civilian families keep us balanced. They help us remember that the world is not always dark and dangerous.
It is crucial that law enforcement officers stay emotionally connected to their civilian families-participate in family activities, school events, and "downtime." This is the first step to fighting stress on the job. To keep physically healthy (which helps you to stay emotionally healthy) find some type of exercise you enjoy. Recognize that alcohol will not work as a long-term stress reducer. Figure out passions (that will not get you into trouble) and balance your time among your job, your family, and your hobbies/passions. Be willing and able to recognize when you are on "thin ice" and find someone who you trust to talk to.
Cops Are Different
Anyone who decides to become a police officer already knows the dangers of the street, from the criminal element to driving accidents. There is a common understanding of these demands. What we don't hear about is the hidden danger: the unspoken pressure. Law enforcement officers are a unique group of people who are willing to take on a stressful, difficult job. Law enforcement is also unique because officers are repeatedly exposed to extraordinarily stressful events. This places you at higher-than-normal risk for developing stress reactions.
Daniel A. Goldfarb, Ph.D., identifies "10 reasons cops are
different." On his Website "Heavy Badge," Goldfarb writes:
1. Law enforcement officers are seen as authority figures. People deal with them differently and treat them differently, even when they are not working.
2. They are isolated. The wearing of a badge, uniform, and gun makes a law enforcement officer separate from society.
3. Law enforcement officers work in a quasi-military, structured institution.
4. Shift work is not normal. The "rotating shift" schedule is difficult on an officer's life.
5. Camaraderie can be a two-edged sword. The law enforcement job nurtures a sense of teamwork. It also stimulates a sense of belonging that can create an "us and them" view of the world.
6. The stress for law enforcement is different; it is called "burst stress." Burst stress means there is not always a steady stressor, but at times there is an immediate "burst" from low stress to a high-stress state.
7. Officers need to be in constant emotional control. Law enforcement requires extreme restraint under highly emotional circumstances.
8. Law enforcement offers no "gray areas."
9. The work world of law enforcement is the bad part of society. This may create cynicism and a critical view of the world in general.
10. Children and families are impacted by the officer's job.