The Gender And Police Stress Criminology Essay


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This literature review will discuss the impact of work environment as well as work related family conflict and coping methods on physical and psychological stresses of law enforcement officers. The survey data that will be discussed and examined in this review will be used from a New England police department, the results of both similar and dissimilar analysis will be discussed as well as the comparison to different gender groups. This literature review specifies that in both gender groups work related family conflict and negative mechanisms of coping are of the highest and constant stresses among law enforcement officers, despite anxiety or depression. There is also a conflicting mechanism of coping in relations to work related stress between both gender groups; this review will further discuss these uniting and opposing issues.


Law enforcement officers are considered to have one of the most highly stressful types of occupation. Law enforcement officers are constantly involved in aggressive, disruptive and even the most entrusted types of citizens in society all the while being expected to use discretion in these types of incidents (Crank and Caldero, 1991; Violanti and Aron, 1994). Many researchers argue that law enforcement officer's performance on the job can be affected when they experience stress related issues (McGreedy, 1974; Goodman, 1990). On the other hand, the research that has been conducted on this subject doesn't discuss the differences on the impact of stress for both gender groups of law enforcement officers, all the early research done has been mostly on male law enforcement officers.

Explanations as well as successive policy implications result from police stress that has been researched only on male law enforcement officers; and are usually do not pertain to female law enforcement officers. Much of the research pertaining to stress and gender groups that are outside of policing have shown differences in coping skills in both male and female employees (Barnett et al., 1987).

Even with such partial research, it has been suggested that female law enforcement officers do however experience stress resulting from causes indifferent from male law enforcement officers; and that these female law enforcement officers do in fact cope with stress in a different way than male law enforcement officers (Pendergrass and Ostrove, 1984; Brown and Campbell, 1990). Very few studies of coping mechanisms alone for both male and female law enforcement officers has been made through association.

The impact of stress and female law enforcement officers is a concern that should have more light shown upon it considering that there are increasingly more female law enforcement officers therefore, increasing the demographics of police agencies. The rising rate of female law enforcement officers has grown in the United States; since 1980 there were 4.6% of female law enforcement officers being and by 1999 the number had grown to 14.3 % (National Center for Women and Policing, 2000; Martin, 1993). With such an increase in female law enforcement officers tied together with findings that suggest stress as being the negative factor in job performance helps to justify the need for more research on gender groups and police stress.

Although there has been numerous literatures in the subject of police work and stress, there is not however many studies or literatures in gender differences in how police officers cope with this stress. Many of the early research composed on police stress could not be done due to not having enough data on both male and female law enforcement officers (Burke, 1993). The study I will use in this review is from a police agency in a metropolitan area that will discuss work environment, work related family conflict as well as coping mechanisms on psychical and psychological stresses in both male and female law enforcement officers. This survey of data consisted of 157 females and 943 male law enforcement officers that responded to participate in this survey. With this large sample a more in depth analysis can be conducted on gender and stress with the use of clinical measurements.

The data in this review will discuss if levels of clinical development in physical and psychological stress are comparable for both male and female officers and if work environment, work related family conflict, as well as coping mechanisms of stress are comparable in both male and female law enforcement officers. In the data provided there are three indicators that measure both physical and psychological stresses within the work environment for both male and female law enforcement officers. Also within this review are four categories of illustrative variables which are: work environment, work related family conflict, coping mechanisms, as well as demographic variables which are used to calculate levels of stress between male and female law enforcement officers.

Literature Review

Stress related studies conducted by researchers on diverse professions unusually use gender as the main focus of their study. Clinically developed surveys on stress suggest that females have a higher level of physical and psychological stressors that is reported than the males (for a review of the literature, see Derogatis and Savitz, 1999). Further, these research studies have uncovered that male and female workers acquire diverse theoretical and acclamations to stress.

First, it should be mentioned that both male and female employees view stress, as well as the source of stress in different ways (Scotland, 1991). Secondly, both male and female employees have different ways to cope under (Barnett et all., 1987, p. 350). It has been suggested that females use what is called an "emotional-focused" type of coping whereas males use a "problem-focused type of coping in dealing with stress (Billings and Moos, 1981; Stone and Neale, 1984). However, it is to be noted that these gender differences within how stress is viewed as well as the strategies used to cope with stress between male and female employees may also be discovered among male and female law enforcement officers.

Gender and stress in police work

Gender is a key factor in calculating the sources as well as the way law enforcement officers cope with stress (Pendergrass and Ostrove, 1984; Brown and Campbell, 1990). For instance, female law enforcement officers experience higher levels of harassment, aggression, as well as other negative notions while on the job when measure up to the male law enforcement officers they work with (Deaux and Ullman, 1983; Balkin, 1988; Martin, 1990). A frequent justification for these female law enforcement officers to receive this type of stress while on the job is due to the culture of police agencies. Further, female law enforcement officers tolerate these types of negative interactions more than the male law enforcement officers they work with Wexler and Logan (1983, p. 48) state:

"The sources of stress mentioned were negative attitudes of male officers, training, exposure to tragedy and trouble, group blame, and rumors."

With this said, police agency culture both internally and externally are less likely to favor female law enforcement officers.

Within the studies discussed above, the effect of stress on both male and female law enforcement officers may be diverse. On the other hand, very little research on physical and psychological stress between both male and female law enforcement officers has been done, especially when discussing the use of the same measurement. Previous research on police stress and gender groups tends to center on the issue of stress and male and female law enforcement officers but in a separate way, this is mainly done because of the constraint on being able to collect proper data (e.g. Wexler and Logan, 1983).

Sources related to job-related stress among law enforcement officers

In this section, five connecting and conflicting sources of police stress will be discussed. Also, it is apparent that police work is often noted as one the top most stressful occupations (Eisenburg, 1975; Selye, 1978; Alkus and Padesky, 1983; Loo, 1984; Kroes, 1985; Violanti, 1985; Reese, 1986; Dantzer, 1987; Goodman, 1990; Burke, 1993).

The sources of stress in police work have been well acknowledged by researchers and practitioners (Symonds, 1970; Cruse and Rubin, 1973; Kroes et al., 1974; Reiser, 1974; 1976). The five frequent sources of police stress discussed in this literature are:

Stress from the work environment;

Accessibility of peer support and trust;

Community and family influence;

Routine characteristics of police agencies; and

Ease of coping mechanisms.

The first type of source for stress in police work is related to the distinctive work environment of law enforcement officers. Many dangers are connected to police work and are frequently discussed in surveys of law enforcement officers when they are asked to make a list in rank-order of potential stressors. On top of this list of stressors is stress due to the death of a partner or taking the life in the line of duty (Coman and Evans, 1991; Violanti and Aron, 1993). Further, other types of stress discussed in this literature include arrests including violence, and horrific crime scenes (Violanti and Aron, 1993). Generally, these brutal and erratic events are regularly measured to be the main sources of both physical and psychological stress among law enforcement officers.

Next, an extensive section of literature discusses the importance of peer support and trust of co-workers and administrators dealing with the results of stress involved in police work (House and Wells, 1978; LaRocco et al., 1980; House, 1981; Dignam et al., 1986, Ganster et al., 1986; Quick et al., 1992; Morris et al., 1999). Researchers have disputed that peer support is significant to law enforcement officers as the type of work entails officers to put their trust in fellow police officers in dangerous situations when dealing with life threatening incidents, and because work-related stress is easily understood throughout fellow law enforcement officers (Ellison and Gens, 1983; Graf, 1986). Additionally, studies have shown that law enforcement officers who recognize themselves as having a well-built work-related peer support system have also claimed that they have less stress within their jobs (LaRocco et al., 1980; Graf 1986). With high admiration to gender, peer support received from other officers is important for females as well as minorities who deal with internal incidents in a traditionally white male dominate field of work. (Walker, 1985; Martin, 1990).

Next to discuss in this literature is bureaucratic characteristics of police agencies which are yet another source of stress among law enforcement officers (Violanti and Aron, 1993). Researchers have discovered that certain characteristics of police organizations are a factor in predicting stress amongst law enforcement officers (Speilberger et al., 1981; Maslach, 1982; Martelli et al., 1989; Broen and Campbell, 1990). Police agency stressors can be any type of event that administration thinks is an issue to officers of the agency. Police agencies that are of bureaucratic nature (unreasonable rules, as well as a dissimilar chain of command) are often condensed to a minimal (Coman and Evan, 1991).

Work and family relationships is the fourth source of stress among law enforcement officers. Much of the research on work and family relationships have shown that police officers personal lived are in fact affected by the type of police work they are involved in, which in turn, many law enforcement officers see their jobs as a more physically and psychologically stressful (Hughes et al., 1992; Galinsky et al., 1993; 1996). Several studies have identified work-family conflict as an important predictor of psychological burnout among police officers (Jackson and Maslach, 1982; Burke, 1989; 1993). This becomes true for many of the female officers because of their role as a mother as well as a wife being higher than that of the male (Martin, 1980, p. 200). Some examples have shown that marriage is noticeably valuable for many husbands of law enforcement officers but less for wives of law enforcement officers (Bernard, 1972), and women tend to have more burden put on them than married men do (Gove and Tudor, 1973). Nonetheless, only a couple studies have been researched on this type of issue within perspectives of gender and police work.

Finally, availability and coping mechanisms chosen to reduce stress by both male and female law enforcement officers is the last source of stress. However, literature involving types of coping is filled with numerous definitions and many researchers will agree that the conscious use of cognitive or behavioral approaches that are needed to aid in the reduction of stress replicates the process of coping (Evans et al., 1993; Anshel, 2000).

Reviewing literature that discusses stress shows that individuals in any profession are more likely to take one of two approaches in order to reduce physical or psychological stress (Burke, 1993). The first approached that can be utilized to reduce stress focuses on positive coping strategies and usually involves family and social support in reducing stress. A type of positive coping would be support type group meetings, allocating stressful incidents with family or friends, and religious support groups. The second approach that can be utilized to reduce stress is the use of negative coping strategies. Usually, these types of negative coping strategies engage in methods of self-destruction in order to reduce ones stress levels, these types of negative coping strategies include smoking as well as avoiding family and friends. Violanti et al. (1985) further states that certain types of stress-related job "demands" of policing are linked to alcohol use. They dispute that the physical and psychological stressors are related directly or indirectly to alcohol use. Likewise, Haar and Morash (1999) discovered that male and female law enforcement officers have different methods of how to cope when trying to reduce stress related to police work.

However it is to be noted that the positive coping mechanisms that are to be considered are a better approach for law enforcement officers to reduce stress. Other studies have shown that wrongful coping strategies can be a contributor to stress instead of helping to reduce these stress levels (Lazarus, 1990; Aldwin, 1994). Additionally, failing to cope with stress in general can also lead to health problems such as long-term and chronic stress (Loo, 1984). Law enforcement officers who use wrongful coping strategies (e.g. excessive alcohol abuse, smoking, eating too much, and even drug use) are at a higher risk of attaining chronic, long-term stress (Hurrel, 1986). Therefore, any type of police stress untreated leads to many other long-term effects such as burnout, loss of motivation, and resistance from police work all (Maslach 1976; Violanti and Aron, 1993).

After evaluating the extensive amount of literature on police gender and stress, it is to be noted that there is no clear definitive answer on what the main source of stress relating to police work is for both male and female law enforcement officers, however, in the research provided in this review will discuss work environment, coping mechanisms, and work and family conflict on physical and psychological stress of both male and female law enforcement officers.


The study that will be discussed uses data from Gershon's (1999) study called "Police stress and domestic violence in police families in Baltimore, Maryland, 1997-1999." The data set that is provided in this study was obtained from Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Researcher's (ICPSR #2976) web site.

Gershon's study used a data collection of sampling, which entailed three steps:

Gather the total number of law enforcement employees in each of the nine precincts on all shifts;

be present at one or two roll calls in each of the nine precincts and headquarters in Baltimore on every shift in order to gather volunteers for the sample; and

Allocate self-administered questionnaires to law enforcement officers that volunteered to be a part of the study.

The rate of response for this study was at 68% (see Gershon, 1999 for more details). There was a five-page questionnaire that was distributed to the law enforcement officers at Baltimore Police department. Questions that were provided dealt with physical and psychological stress symptoms; such as stressors, how one perceived their own stress level, certain mechanisms of coping, and health related outcomes due to stress.

Dependent variable

The questionnaire in Gerson's (1999) survey was designed to gauge law enforcement officer's stress with the use of a modified version of the brief symptom inventory (BSI), which is a form of the Symptom Check List 90 (Derogatis and Melisaratos, 1983). Originally the BSI contains 53 questions, all in which gage the nine areas of physical and psychological stress symptoms. These questions are then graded on a five-point scale involving distress ranging from (0) meaning no distress involved to (4) meaning very bothersome. First developed in the year 1975 the BSI was intended to review psychological patterns of symptoms in residents of a community, and on mental and psychiatric patients as well (Derogatis and Savitz, 1999). The validity has been sustained and tested numerously in the United States (for a review see Derogatis and Savitz, 1999).

Three out of the nine areas discussing symptoms of stress in Gershon's (1999) study used a four-point scale on distress which was gauged from 1 to 4; (1) being never experienced distress to (4) always experiences distress.

The first area to be discussed of the three areas in Gershon's study is somatization, which is a range that replicates distress psychologically of how one perceives bodily dysfunction. Such issues that arose were on respiratory, gastrointestinal, cardiovascular as well as autonomic medications. Body aches, painful discomfort and pain were also symptoms of stress discussed.

Second, anxiety is another area of stress that can range from being restless and nervous to panic attacks.

The third area to be discussed is depression; this range is very broad within the area of clinical depressive syndrome. Here, symptoms tend to give a generalized feeling of distress as well a withdrawal symptoms, decreased motivation, and lack of energy (for detailed discussion of dimensions see Derogatis et al., 1973). The items in each scale can be seen in Appendix 1.

Independent variables

This study includes six independent variables which are put into three major perspectives that are to include:

Work environment;

Work related family conflict; and

Stress coping mechanisms

In this study there are three variables that are used to show unique types of characteristics in the police work environment. First, police work that has any type of negative exposure is used to measure aspects of danger or negative events at work that an officer would often experience (e.g. police funerals, shootings, violent arrests, etc.). Second, in order to gauge peer support groups or trust in other police officers camaraderie is measured (e.g. trust between officers and police partners, and unit's cooperation). Finally, a law enforcement officer's view of treatment as an officer by the media as well as within bureaucratic nature is measured in unfairness.

Spillover is measured by the law enforcement officer's physical and psychological stress of work related family conflict. When ones personal life, as well as, workplace becomes unhappy burnout is initiated and is a major cause of stress. Situations such as these for law enforcement officers are very physically and emotionally and in turn make it even more difficult to handle spouses/significant others. This leads to many law enforcement officers to treat their family much like the ways they treat the suspects they deal with in their work environment. This study further discusses "spillover" of the differences related to work related family stress for both male and female law enforcement officers.

Further, this study measures coping mechanisms used two types of measures which include constructive and destructive coping mechanisms. The first type of measure to be used in this study is constructive coping; this type of coping mechanism measures direct, active and positive responses to work-related stress (e.g. talking amongst family, relatives, and friends about a problem, making a plan of action and sticking with it, praying for strength and help, etc.). The second type of measure to be used in this study is deconstructive coping; this type of coping mechanism measures negative and avoiding methods that are used to deal with work-related stress (e.g. avoiding family and friends, yelling at family, spouse/significant others, throwing or breaking things, and increase in smoking, drinking, gambling, drugs, and acting like nothing is wrong).

Five variables used in this study as control measures in this demographic analysis are:


Marital status;

Education status

Rank; and

Years of service.

Many studies have shown that law enforcement officers rank as well as how many years of police service an officers has are key characteristic that are associated with stress exposure (Robinson, 1981; Gudjonsson and Adlam, 1985; Fielding, 1987; Brown and Campbell, 1990). Other research has found many conflicting and weak connections of stress and demographic characteristics (e.g. Maslasch, 1982; Burke and Richardsen, 1993; Burke, 1993). The five control factors listed above have been included to make certain that the effects of demographic background as well as years of work experience have no relations connected to work environment, work related family conflict, coping mechanisms and reports of symptoms caused by stress among both male and female law enforcement officers. See Appendix 2 for a correlation matrix of variables that are included in this study.


The demographic characteristics of the law enforcement officers who responded to the survey are reported in Table I below. Included within this survey sample were 943 male law enforcement officers (86%) and 157 female law enforcement officers (14%). Out of these 1100 law enforcement officers 696 (66%) stated they were White, 355 (34%) stated they were African American. There were not many law enforcement officers of other races that responded to take this survey. Within this survey for simplicity of comparison, the percentages for ethnicity are only based on White and African American law enforcement officers only. Almost 60% of these officers stated that they were married. Many of the law enforcement officers didn't have college degrees (70%). 18% of the respondents within this survey stated they held ranks of sergeant or higher. The average length of law enforcement officers within this survey had put in about 12 years of service.

TABLE I. Descriptive statistics of demographic variables


Mean (SD)




Female = 0



Male = 1




White = 0



African American = 1




Not married = 0



Married = 1



Education Attainment

BA and + = 0



Less than BA = 1




Supervisor = 0



Officer = 1



Years of service

11.52 (9.28)

The first question in the survey discusses levels of clinically developed evaluations of stress between both male and female law enforcement officers at the Baltimore City Police Department. Table II displays the comparison of male and female law enforcement officers of both independent and dependent variables using t-tests. The results show that female law enforcement officers have higher levels of stress within two out of the three indexes that measure physical and psychological stress. The mean (or middle average) of female law enforcement officers with depression and somatization (1.58, 1.54) was higher than the male law enforcement officers (1.47, 1.36). Further the survey found no differences between female and male law enforcement officers with anxiety.

Within the three types of independent variables, the survey found significant difference in all three measures of work environment for both male and female law enforcement officer. The survey found that the male law enforcement officers had more occurrences of negative exposures within the work environment (1.34) and had higher rates of camaraderie (3.62) than the female law enforcement officers (1.22; 3.44). Male officers also had higher rates of unfairness (3.04) than the female law enforcement officers (2.81). Further, there were no differences found in means of spillover between the male and female law enforcement officers. However, this study found that coping mechanisms were different between both the male and female law enforcement officers.

TABLE II. Displays the differences of the independent and dependent variables for both male and female law enforcement officers, and the female law enforcement officers utilized more of a constructive coping (2.66) mechanism than the male law enforcement officers (2.35). However, there was a significant difference within the destructive coping mechanisms and the results showed to be marginal for both male (1.56) and female law enforcement officers (1.50).

Baltimore PD

Scale Mean (SD)

Male officers Scale Mean (SD)

Female officers

Scale Mean (SD)


Dependent Variable


1.39 (0.38)

1.36 (0.36)

1.54 (0.45)



1.27 (0.36)

1.27 (0.36)

1.26 (0.37)



1.47 (0.39)

1.45 (0.38)

1.58 (0.45)


Work Environment

Negative exposures

1.33 (0.65)

1.34 (0.65)

1.22 (0.61)



3.60 (0.80)

3.62 (0.80)

3.44 (0.84)



3.00 (0.66)

3.04 (0.66)

2.81 (0.62)


Work related family conflict


2.38 (0.78)

2.40 (0.78)

2.30 (0.77)



Constructive coping

2.39 (0.60)

2.35 (0.60)

2.66 (0.57)


Destructive coping

1.55 (0.33)

1.56 (0.33)

1.50 (0.32)


Note: *p < 0.05

The second question this survey covers in Tables III and IV show that the results of stress and coping strategies are the same for both male and females. Further, both male and female law enforcement officer's samples ranged significantly higher (0.24) for anxiety within the female officers to (0.34) for depression for the ale officers.

Within the male law enforcement officer officers the results of the survey also conveyed that the majority of the independent variables were higher in all three areas of stress. More specifically, the results found that the four variables can predict the levels of physical and psychological stress within the male law enforcement officers. The four variables in this study are:

Negative exposures to police work;

Camaraderie (work environment);

Spillover effect (work-related family conflict); and

Destructive coping (coping strategy).



Additionally, this study also discovered that male law enforcement officers that are married tend to have less psychological stress when compared to male law enforcement officers that were unmarried. Further, the years of service a male law enforcement officer puts in with a department, the more likely the officer is to be clinically depressed.

Similarly, female law enforcement officers revealed more interesting findings (see Table IV). First, the work environment measurements had no significant impact on female law enforcement officer stress; meaning none of the three variables measuring work environment had any influence of stress. Moreover, none of the variables dealing with demographics had any significance on predicting physical or psychological stress in female law enforcement officers.

Second, work-related conflict (spillover) and destructive coping mechanisms (coping strategy) were both significant within female law enforcement officers. Further, constructive coping mechanisms were also found to be a "buffer" to depression symptoms for female law enforcement officers.

Discussion and Conclusions

To answer the first question in this study, the results showed that female law enforcement officers had significant levels of somatization as well as depression when compared to male law enforcement officers (e.g. Derogatis and Savitz, 1999). However, no evidence has been found that implies both male and female law enforcement officers differ in the clinical measurement of anxiety.

In order to answer the second question in this research study, multivariate analysis was used to measure stress as well as coping strategies used by male and female law enforcement officers. Both convergent and divergent effects in work environment, work-related family conflict, and coping strategies were found in both the physical and psychological stress of officers. There was a convergent impact of spillover and destructive coping in three areas of stress (anxiety, depression and somatization). The high levels of spillover and destructive coping within the results of this study suggests that these are the main job stressors in law enforcement work.

It is also to be noted that the results from this study showed that female law enforcement officers had no effects from work environment or demographic variables. This study also concluded that females use constructive coping which helps to reduce depression in these female law enforcement officers.

There are apparent differences between male and female law enforcement officers when it comes to the use of constructive coping strategies. Male officers do not rely on spiritual guidance or consulting family, friends, or spouses when dealing with stress.

Policy Implications

Policy implications are the basis from this study on police stress and gender. Studies suggest that police administrators need to focus more attention on the convergent factors that drive officers to have high levels of stress. Stress factors such as work-related family conflict and negative coping are both common in male and female law enforcement officers. In order to reduce stress associated with work-related family conflict, police management needs to focus on creating accommodations for officers personal, profession as well as family needs. Stress training in work-related family conflict needs to be part of training for officers and their spouses/significant others.

Second, in order to improve coping skills in law enforcement officers, stress management programs need to be put into place as well as be tailored to fit each department's specific needs. Three major components of this type of management are:

physical and psychological stress assessment of officers, including internal and external stressors;

adaptive and maladaptive coping skills need to be monitored; and

effective use of intervention strategies such as peer counseling.

Above all, peer counseling has been proven to be an effective way of dealing with police officer stress (Klyver, 1983). It is to be noted that many male law enforcement officers do not seek out for professional help, for they feel they will be view as weak by their peers (Graf, 1986).

Finally, stress management programs can be beneficial from learning the divergent impact of work environment as well as coping mechanisms on stress that is gender specific. This study suggests that work environment has higher levels of stress among male officers. Also negative exposures to work related incidents are also stressors among male officers, and camaraderie with colleagues counteracts the negative impact on the well being of male law enforcement officers. Even though there is no significant support on the impact of work environment on female officers stress within this study, many signs of work environment were similar within both gender groups. Additionally, the need for constructive coping encouragement has been linked to a higher impact on the reduction of depression in female law enforcement officers. Constructive coping that female officers utilize decreases depression this type of coping needs to be expanded to male law enforcement officers in order to have a positive impact on their stress. In sum, work related stress is a major issue and no police department should treat it lightly. With police work being a highly stressful job occupation stress management is essential. In addition, when officers are unable to deal with stress efficiently and effectively, these officers will fail to provide quality effective police services to citizens in their community.

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