A law enforcement officer, also referred to as the peace officer, is any person whose duties involve the enforcement of laws. Law enforcement involves upholding and enforcing the laws and statues that are in force in a given jurisdiction (Tatum, 2003). In general they include the police officers, corrections officers, customs officers, immigration officers, court officers, probation officers, parole officers, constables, border patrol agents, auxiliary officers, and sheriffs, marshals and their deputies.
The powers given to the peace officers are often limited to their performance. A law enforcement officer may arrest a person without an arrest warrant if the person has committed an offense in the presence of the officer, or if there is a probable cause that the serious crime has been committed and the officer has probable cause to believe that the person to be arrested has committed the crime (Tatum, 2003). Any person who commits an offence against the peace officer faces severe penalties as compared to the penalties given when the same crime is committed against an ordinary citizen. Therefore persons should not resist, delay, or obstruct the peace officer when they are on their official duties. The primary roles of law enforcement agencies are to enforce law and the management of the punishment process for people who are convicted of crimes. The law enforcement officers seeks to achieve two core goals; one is to prevent the occurrence of a crime that is in some way affects another person or society in a negative way, secondly is to ensure that the suspected criminals are tried in compliance to the given laws (Tatum 2003). This concept of law enforcement has been there even during ancient times whereby there were people who were being appointed to maintain the standards and given rules of the society. These people were to protect the society, carryout investigations involving the alleged criminal activity and lay out appropriate punishments.
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There are various critical incidences and stresses experienced by the law enforcement personnel; the exposure to these incidences has imposed some negative emotional experiences. It has been known that the officers with stress indulge in alcohol and substance abuse resulting to problems including; anxiety, anger, depression, marital difficulties and domestic violence and even self ââ‚¬"affiliated injury or death.
Stress among Law Enforcement Officers
As reported by Hasselt et al. (2008), the local police are required to protect the rights of citizens and seek to minimize the incidence of the crime within the society. They are empowered to arrest and apprehend any person suspected to have committed an act of crime. The police usually work with other law professionals to ensure that the suspect is held in custody until the person stands the trial for the suspected criminal activity. According to the Law Enforcement Officer Stress Survey (LEOSS), the law enforcement officers work is said to be extremely stressful, (Hasselt et al. 2008), as they are exposed to special kinds of traumatic events and daily pressures that requires defensive mechanism of toughness in attitude, temperament and training. They require all this in order for them to do their work effectively.
This stress may come inform of a particular traumatic incidence, such as the cruel accident, a vicious crime against a child, a close experience that almost lead to death, death or injury of a partner, shooting of the criminal, and many other traumatic critical incidence (Hasselt et al. 2008). All this will eventually lead to development of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The symptoms encountered includes; numbed responsiveness, impaired memory due to disturbing images from the incidence, irritability, hyper vigilance, impaired concentrations, sleep disturbance, anxiety, depression, social withdrawal and substance abuse (Miller, 2006). Notably, these problems are more prevent among the law enforcement officers than the general population. It has been estimated that about a quarter of the policed officers have encountered some physical health problems brought in by stress. These sicknesses involve the high blood pressure, coronary heart diseases and gastrointestinal disorders. Their mental activity is also affected by these uncontrolled stress reactions.
According to Miller (2006), a third of the number of the police officers who visited the hospital are said to be suffering from the posttraumatic stress disorder that affect their physical and mental health. Interestingly, even the occupational stressors like shift work, public attitudes, boredom complaints about management and administration have affected their emotional health. According to Libermen et al., (2002), the psychological distress among the police officers was more of the occupational stressors than the stress from the traumatic critical incidences. This exposure of police officers to occupational stress may ultimately lead to traumatic stress. The most tragic incidence among the police officers is suicide (Miller, 2006). Many officers, since they own lethal weapons, die by their own hands than as they are killed while working. The most catalyzing behavior towards this suicide involves alcohol and romantic crisis.
Internal, External and Peer Support Programs
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An Employee Assistant Program (EAP) that can be either internal or external depending on the structure of the organization, its members and their collective needs (Goldstein n.d.). It involves the full-time trained clinicians, psychological counselors and outside contractors offers the peer services to the officers and support staff with confidentiality. The EAP is designed to intervene on an employeeââ‚¬â„¢s problem during its early stages before the employeesââ‚¬â„¢ career is adversely affected. The internal model of EAP is where the efforts of the program are located within the organization. The members feel that the efforts of these programs do not take the interests of the employees at hand. The external model usually takes the organizations services to outside concerns (Goldstein n.d.). The officers are said to have little trust on EAPs since the internal mode is almost only available to those on higher rank. Those who need these services are often hesitant to seek and use the assistance that is available.
The combination of the EAP and peer-support programs makes it easy to access external services through established organizational support. The peer supporter provides immediate support and intervention by accessing the mental health professionals through the EAP (Goldstein n.d.). Peer support is considered to be the most interventional methods in law enforcement as they can empathize and understand their peers.
Stress Management Programs
Numerous stress management programs have been developed to help the law enforcement officers to curb with this stresses. However it is required that early detection is important in order to curb with the cumulative symptoms that can cause trauma to the victims. This management programs would help to address the challenges and stress encountered by this officers and also provides a way that facilitates the development of mental health system (Hasselt et al. 2008).
It has been found that the police officers are often reluctant to expose their weakness to the outsiders or show any form of weakness among their peers due to fears of harming their careers (Schulz, n.d.). This has therefore resulted in difficulties for clinicians who are trying to identify and help those officers in distress. Many of these officers need help in order for them to deal with the psychological, physical, and emotional effects they have experienced. There are standards implemented for every officer to receive a series of behavioral health consultants before, during and after deployment. There should be systems put in place to embrace mental health and create a safe environment for addressing mental illness directly. This will help them erase this stigma through sharing of thoughts, their concerns and their worries always and not only when they have issues.
Unfortunately, stigma and lack of understanding on mental illness can create a culture of secrecy and denial for these officers to seek appropriate medical attention. Therefore, this lack of medical attention will eventually worsen leading to distortions not only in their careers but also their lives. In addition, the officers when addressing the public must possess an understanding of how to approach individuals living with mental illness.
There should be reviews done to ensure that there is coordination in the departments of law enforcement officers (Schulz, n.d.). The officers should be given off-duty not only when they are in high risk moments but also during the everyday stress of law enforcement work. The assessment programs help to assess whether the, officers before being recruited, have personal qualities that can help them handle various tasks that they will be involved. The working environment is vital in any organization and is the key to a positive and productive work force (Schulz, n.d.). Chaplains after going through psychological needs of law enforcement training are needed to provide faith-based programs since most people responds to it. A good relationship is thus developed so that the officers will feel more comfortable to open up and talk.
The officer is required to have the self monitoring of reactions to stressful situations, muscular relaxation and development of adaptive self-statements. They are trained on how to deal with certain specific types of challenges such as interpersonal conflicts and family disputes. A variety of police training programs are has been developed to enhance the performance of police officers. These officers would always deal with this routine and exceptional stresses by using a variety of defensive mechanisms such as repression, displacement, isolation of feelings and humor. This was concluded from the research that has been attested to the high rates of stress and stress related disorders among the law enforcement officers (Miller, 2006).
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The police officers regularly deal with the most violent, impulsive, and predatory members of society thus putting their lives in cruelties and horror yet they still face criticisms and complaints from the citizens. There have been critical focus and investigation on the stress and stress-related disorders among law enforcement officers. It is essential to identify and evaluate this stresses in order to prevent and avoid its further effects on the officers. There are critical interventions and psychotherapeutic strategies that have been found most practical and useful for helping law enforcement officers in distress. The law enforcement officers are ranked third among general populations to be involved in premature deaths. It has been recognized that these officers, for one reason or another are not always interested in or willing to seek assistance for problems associated with their profession. Therefore all the law enforcement organizations should offer legitimate methods for compacting such difficulties and problems.