Stress Associated With The Law Enforcement Profession Criminology Essay

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Law enforcement is a broad term used to describe the various agencies that are engaged in upholding the rule of law in a society. In many countries the general definition of law enforcement agencies is usually used to mean police, military police, secret police, special types of law enforcement agencies and law enforcement organizations (Brown, 2002). Even with these classifications there are still other categories of agencies that can still be considered to be law enforcers, therefore law enforcers can generally be described as all types of personnel that are actively involved in activities that prevent criminal activities and uphold the rule of law. Due to this broad category of law enforcement agencies, it therefore follows that the nature of their job changes with specific duties of each agency, for this reasons some agencies have increased level of risk as well as stress due to their nature of work while other have relatively low risks which translates to low stress levels.

Towards this end the duties of law enforcers can be categorized into type, those that have high risk and those that have low risks (Brown, 2002). High risks will involve patrol duties at known dangerous neighborhoods especially at night when the rate of crime is generally at its highest. Other high risk duties will include protection of VIP's, cash escort duties and prison escort services among others. They are the types of duties that are usually assigned to specialized agencies of law enforcements such as FBI and CIA in the case of United States.

The other end of law enforcement careers that have low risk and therefore stress level can be described as those that involve police administrative duties, traffic and other jobs that does not especially require law enforcers to be directly placed in situation that have high risk factors.

Having looked at this categorization then the nature of a law enforcer duty is directly related to two other important factors: the level of stress and rewards (Brown, 2002). The rule of thumb in almost all law enforcers agencies worldwide is that the higher the risk level associated with the duties, the higher the rewards, in any case it is only fair since in general high risk levels translates to high stress levels. Nevertheless it is not always the case that other law enforcers that have low risks jobs are denied some of the benefits that are given to their counterparts who have high risk duties. The trend in most law enforcement agencies is that most benefits are given commensurate to rank and years of service and is partly pegged to their job descriptions as well (Miller, 2006).

Some of the most common rewards that are provided to law enforcers include impressive remuneration rates, flexible working hours, ideal working environment, education grants, further training and education opportunities, supportive agency management, medical cover and insurance cover and holiday allowances (Miller, 2006). These benefits can be work related that are meant to facilitates the duties of law enforcers such as provision of appropriate gear, appropriate training and improved working conditions.

In addition they serve to motivate the law enforcer's commitment to working in a career that is inherently risky and life threatening at times, and also attract prospective persons that would want to work with the agency in future. Indeed for the law enforcement to be a viable option as an employer especially to the most qualified or experienced candidates; then the benefits that it must offer should exceed the normal monetary and work related benefits.

For an agency that does not ask less of it employees but the ultimate sacrifice in the duties of upholding the rule of law, it has gone further to enact laws and legislations that are meant to protect their own in the line of duty, as well as offer psychological and family support to it employees. In terms of law legislations many countries have amended laws that protect police officers for instance from any suits that may be directed towards them for all actions that were done by such an officer in the line of duty (Brown, 2002). An example would be a case where a stray bullet might lead to the death of an innocent civilian during shootout. While the police are adequately trained on the rules of engagement when using firearms in order to prevent such accidents, such accidents still happens.

Many countries have laws that prevent such an officer from going to prison, more so when official inquests on such matters finds no unprofessional conduct. Regarding family support, most law enforcement agencies provides complete family support financially to dependents members left behind by law enforcers killed in the line of duty (Brown, 2002). It is perhaps the single most important benefits that are only unique to law enforcement agencies.

By looking at the various benefits that the agency provides to it employees it is very easy to identify the specific challenge that such a benefit is directed to achieve. Since benefits are mostly aimed to provide prospective candidate and present employees with many reasons why they should consider working with the agency as opposed to the reasons why law enforcement is not an ideal career.

As such the idea is to provide as much benefits as it is economically feasible, while limiting the inherent dangers that come with law enforcement duties. The most common type of stress that occurs in all law enforcers and which the biggest challenge to overcome is the Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that the law enforcement agency must overcome by providing the appropriate benefits (Anderson Swenson and Clay, 1995).

In order to understand the methods that law enforcement agencies have applied to address this problem, let us briefly determine what this condition entails, and consequently identify the police benefits that specifically intends to address this problem. PTSD is defined as a condition that leads to heightened mental or physical activity that detrimentally affects the psychological aspect of a person and has mental lasting effects that keep recurring (Anderson et al, 1995). It is an example of what is likely to occur to a police officer who is probably involved daily in crime prevention that involves regular shoot out incidence, or requires such a person to witness numerous incident of violence such as murder and rape.

It effects on a person can take various forms such as acute, chronic, cumulative and delayed, the last three types are the most serious since they are likely to cause a change in personality among the police officer or at worst lead to mental break down (Anderson, 1995).

To address this most serious form of stress among the law enforcers, we can now identify key benefits that directly alleviate or prevent occurrence of PTSD among the police officers. As a Standard Operating Procedure for most law enforcement agencies, a police officer for instance is supposed to undergo through Critical Incident Stress Debriefing immediately after they have been involved in a traumatic events such as a shootout incidents (Anderson, 1995). That is usually recommended to be done within the first 24 hours. Though this is not a benefit per se, it is one of the first line defense methods that are used to prevent the PTSD in law enforcers.

Nevertheless, there are some type of arrangements that can be considered to be direct benefits given to law enforcers, an example is flexible working hours and change in duties that is done in shifts which can be allocated in such a way as to ensure that a person is not exposed to areas that are likely to lead to traumatic events. For instance law enforcement management may opt to transfer a police officer to less taxing and risky responsibilities at the same salary levels where they fear possibility of PSTD occurrence on the person. Other benefits include holiday allowance that provide law enforcers with opportunities to unwind and rejuvenate, child support, career transfer to other agencies, career breaks and work life balance. When all this benefits are adequately applied including many others that have not been mentioned here, the law enforcement duties becomes a viable option that many people would consider joining as a career option.

Lows of Law Enforcement Profession

More than many other professions law enforcement is among the most dangerous types of careers that a person could choose to join, this is because unlike many other professions, law enforcements amounts to a career in the military where there is a 10% chance of a police officer dying in the line of duty according to a research study done by Brown (2002). To compound this risk is a malady of other problems that dog the law enforcement professionals due to the nature of their jobs that combine together and significantly contribute to the challenges that law enforcer have to face every day in the line of duty. Some of the notable problems and risks that are encountered by law enforcers include accidents, murder, rape, threats and other bodily harm that are likely to occur when they are on duty (Blau, 994).

Besides this when the work environment is not conducive it can be a catalyst that worsens and complicates their duties, this is when law enforcers are required to work long and odd hours probably due to in adequate manpower. The United Nations recommendation ratio for police officers to citizens for example is 1:1000 (Brown, 2002). Since most countries cannot meet this ratio; the solution has always been to stretch the available police forces in a way that leads to huge workloads. The fact that law enforcers are supposed to be on call 365 days in a year, day and night means that they have to work at night which is very challenging even for other type of jobs that do not have the same level of risks. Finally in some law enforcements the budgetary allocations are not available to provide them with superior equipments and gear that ensures they are well equipped in situations that for instance requires shootout.

The implications is that such a law enforced that does not have advantage in terms of equipment is likely to be gunned down by criminal elements that are almost always well equipped with superior guns. But this is hardly the only downside of a law enforcer that is regularly stressed by the working environment. When all this adverse conditions combine together they can lead to very serious and real dangers that directly affect the person as well as the law enforcement agency at large which leads to many other lives being endangered in the process. For example a stressed law enforcer is very likely to have unstable family relationship occasioned from the work related problems, family problems might then cause the law enforcer to engage in substance abuse, and violent tendencies in what is more like a chain reaction triggered by a single event which is stressful job environments.

Besides the dangers that such problems poses, there are other immediate health risks to be considered that are most likely to occur such as heart attacks due to high sustained stress levels, suicides when the stress level becomes unbearable or even cancers. Even more dangerous is the way that such law enforcers are likely to compromise the effort of agencies to stem down crime or uphold the rule of law.

The fact that such persons are engaged in fighting crime in their stressful conditions means that they are not mentally and physically prepared to fight crime and are therefore likely to perform below expectations in the line of duty. In extreme cases what is likely to happen when factors that causes stress are not eliminated or addressed is that a law enforcer get burnout and in the process a whole career is destroyed, perhaps one of the worst outcomes of high stress levels when it occurs in law enforcement agencies.

But even the alternative to this is equally dangerous since it means that such a person under stress will continue to discharge the duties of a law enforcer and in the process many more complications as we have discussed above might happen. When stressful conditions continue to occur in law enforcement agencies without any corrective actions being undertaken two things are likely to happen. One, the overall morale of the entire force will go down since the number of persons affected by the stressful conditions will be very high; this means that police will not be able to discharge their duties to meet the required level (Alexander and Walker, 1994). Since job satisfaction is an important element that contributes to high work performance, in effect this will lead to more stress levels, the result is a never ending circle of stress, poor work conditions, job un-satisfaction that leads to more stress.

In addition the impression that this will create in the public mind is a profession that is thought to be of losers, indeed in some countries law enforcements careers are regarded as a last resort that should only be done by uneducated persons thereby further diminishing the ego of such law enforcement personnel. These is most seen to happen in most third world countries such as in Zimbabwe where police brutality is a very common issue that have been there for many years, the police brutality in this case can be regarded as a form of stress relieving mechanism that law enforcers have come to adopt. In all the various reasons and factors that can be attributed to the stress of working in the law enforcement agencies,

There are also society factors that directly contribute to making the work of police unbearable and less appealing. Almost in every instance that involve a law enforcement agency and which for one reasons or another requires someone to be blamed, the police are always the sacrificial lamb (Brown, 2002).

They are blamed for virtually everything that is not working right in the society the result is that the law enforcement feel antagonized by the public for the wrong reasons, this is the reason that law enforcements are generally not supported by the public in their duties and why the concept of communal policing initiatives has failed in many countries worldwide. A good example happened in the aftermath of September 11th attack where almost every single group that had a platform blamed the FBI and CIA for not being able to avert the terrorist attack. Perhaps the public should have been more appreciating at that time more than ever for the difficulty duties that such law enforcer had to go through to prevent similar attacks as they have successfully done in the past. This hostility between the public and law enforcements is one of the many reasons that make the police feel less proud about their work.

Overall, among the various duties which police officers are required to discharge in the line of duty one of them is seen to weigh heavily on their conscious than all the others. The fact that law enforcers are given the license to kill other person engaged in criminal activities and ultimately for their own safety, still does not seem like enough reasons to live a happy life thereafter unbothered when they eventually get to kill a person (Brown, 2002).

A research study done by Brown for instance found that police officers who have been at any point engaged in shoot out and killed a criminal person are 70% of the time likely to leave the law enforcement agency within the next seven years (2002). This is a clear indication of the seriousness that the traumatic incident of shooting impacts on the law enforcers. In the same study Brown found that policemen are the single most group that is admitted in the hospitals due to injuries and other disease conditions proportionally more than the general population (Brown, 2002). On the same comparison with general population, the level of suicide among the police for instance in New York is found to be 50% higher than in the general population.

It is therefore the duty of law enforcement agencies to ensure that the varieties of benefits that should be given to law enforcers is commensurate to their level of risks and more importantly in such a way as to greatly diminish the lows and challenges associated with the career. Perhaps as a rule of thumbs enforcement agencies should ensure that the working condition of police does not contribute to their stress levels but serve to eliminate them, and then this benefits should be impressive enough to exceed this and other hardships that we have so far discussed.