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PRINTED FROM the OXFORD RESEARCH ENCYCLOPEDIA, CRIMINOLOGY AND CRIMINAL JUSTICE (oxfordre.com/criminology). (c) Oxford University Press USA, 2019. All Rights Reserved. Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 12 November 2019

Summary and Keywords

Police officers face unique challenges in the line of duty that threaten their health and well-being. Officers experience organizational, operational, community-related, and personal stressors ranging from shift work and critical incident response to public pressures related to police-community relations and social media. Exposure to police stress and trauma presents external challenges to wellness which makes officers vulnerable to experiencing compassion fatigue, moral injury, and burnout. Compassion fatigue, resulting from caring for those who suffer, is associated with feelings of anger, anxiety, guilt, hopelessness, and powerlessness. Other symptoms may include emotional instability, diminished self-esteem, self-harm, inability to concentrate, hypervigilance, disorientation, rigidity, apathy, perfectionism, and preoccupation to trauma. Furthermore, moral injury occurs when officers witness or take part in acts that violate their deeply held moral beliefs, which in turn carries implications for psychological and spiritual well-being. The interconnectedness of challenges to officer wellness are detrimental to physical, cognitive, emotional, spiritual, behavioral, and social health. Negative health outcomes include risk for sleep disorders, cardiovascular disease, destructive coping, posttraumatic stress disorder, and suicide.

Implications from prior research with police, other frontline professionals, veterans, and military personnel have led to a number of interventions and techniques that can potentially promote wellness and effective stress management for police officers. Training related to stress management and wellness promotion have been found to significantly improve officers’ performance in the line of duty and overall health. This includes viewing wellness as a perishable skill, requiring ongoing practice, updated training, and numerous outside resources (e.g., psychological services, posttrauma intervention, peer support, and chaplaincy). Stress management techniques, gratitude and appreciation letters, mindfulness, and other community-oriented programs are some examples of effective strategies to promote the health of the law enforcement community. Furthermore, compassion satisfaction, emotional intelligence, and emotional regulation play a significant role in helping officers maintain stability in their personal and professional lives while capably serving their communities.

Keywords: stress, trauma, compassion fatigue, moral injury, wellness, health, police

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