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Fostering Resilience among the Police

Authors:
  • ProWellness Inc.
  • National Bureau of Investigation, Finland
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ISSN: 2161-0231 (ONLINE)
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Fostering Resilience Among the Police
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Judith P. Andersen, Ph.D.1; Konstantinos Papazoglou, M.A.1; Markku Nyman, M.Sc.2; Mari
Koskelainen, D.Clin.Psych.2; & Harri Gustafsberg, M.Sc.2
1. University of Toronto, Mississauga Campus, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada
2. Police University College in Finland, Tampere, Finland
Abstract
Police officers are often mandated to respond to extremely stressful and potentially traumatic
situations over the course of their careers (Andersen, Papazoglou, Koskelainen, & Nyman,
2015). Research has shown that occupational stress and trauma exposure has a negative impact
on police officers’ health and wellness (Violanti et al., 2005). Police officers are expected to
respond to critical incidents and resolve challenging situations effectively despite routine
exposure to severe stress. Even though local and national governments invest a vast amount of
money in police tactical training and equipment, resilience building has not been a major
component of police training. This paper aims to open a dialogue about the importance of
mental preparedness training as a means of enhancing police resilience in the line of duty. The
authors discuss the pioneering work of scholars (e.g., Andersen et al., 2015; Arnetz et al., 2013)
who developed research initiatives to facilitate mental preparedness among police officers.
Clinical and police training applications of the aforementioned research work, as well as future
directions of such outcomes are discussed.
Keywords: police stress and trauma, resilience, health promotion, mental preparedness, optimal
functioning, high job performance
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Challenges in Policing: The Unique Nature of Police Work
Police work is challenging in many ways. Police officers experience operational, as well
as organizational stress while on duty (McCreary & Thompson, 2006). More specifically,
organizational stress may arise from an unreasonable, authoritarian commander who lacks
effective communication skills. Operational stress emerges from police officers’ exposure to
multiple stressors and potentially traumatic incidents in the line of duty. Furthermore, the public
maintains high expectations for police officers’ performance and functioning (Rosenbaum,
Schuck, Costello, Hawkins, & Ring, 2005; Wilson & Jasinski, 2004). Public scrutiny adds to the
routine stress and high demands of policing. Exposure to routine stress and trauma is chronic,
cumulative, and complex, because it encompasses both direct and indirect exposures
(Papazoglou, 2013).
New York Police Department uniformed police psychologist, Daniel Rudofossi, pointed
out that police officers - over the course of their careers - may encounter a range from 10 to 900
or more events that would potentially be classified as traumatic or severely stressful (2009, p.
59). In addition, police officers’ roles are not just that of the “street fighter” per se (Manzella &
Papazoglou, 2014). Officers are often expected to provide emotional support to victims of
crimes (e.g., domestic violence, child abuse) because they are often the first caregiving
professionals on scene.
Gilmartin (2002) described police work as a “biological rollercoaster,” meaning that
officers often experience high physiological arousal in preparation for calls, during calls, and
sometimes in the transition period between critical incidents. Continual physiological arousal
makes it difficult to return to a calm physical baseline, both during the shift and in transition to
home life (Gilmartin, 2002). Researchers have shown that anticipatory stress is a significant
concern. Anderson and colleagues demonstrated both the anticipatory and active duty stress
responses among 297 general patrol police officers in British Columbia, Canada (Anderson,
Litzenberger, & Plecas, 2002). Andersen and colleagues provided clinical evidence of the
elevated physiological arousal among officers, both in training exercises and during real-world
shifts (see Figures 1 and 2). Although some research shows that police officers are generally
more resilient than the average civilian, the cumulative adversities of police work often have a
negative impact on police officers’ mental and physical health over the course of their career
(Galatzer-Levy, Madan, Neylan, Henn-Haase, & Marmar, 2011).
The impact of extreme stress and trauma on police health
Exposure to highly stressful incidents and potentially traumatic situations can, over time,
negatively impact an individual’s cognitive abilities, memory, mental and physical health, and
overall well-being (Sapolsky, 2004). Research with military personnel has shown that U.S.
veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
had significantly higher risk of developing cardiovascular diseases, musculoskeletal problems,
and even cancer, compared to their peers who had not been diagnosed with PTSD (Andersen et
al., 2010). Pioneering research by Violanti and colleagues (reviewed in the paragraphs below)
has extended empirical work conducted with military populations to show that the police
population also experiences the incapacitating effects of stress and trauma exposure on their
mental and physical health.
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Police officers' experiences
Police officers around the world acknowledge that their work is challenging. In a
national survey study of police officers in the Finnish National Police, more than 40% of survey
respondents reported that they faced critical incidents in more than 20% of their on-duty time
(Andersen, Papazoglou, Koskelainen, & Nyman, 2015). In the same study, over half (i.e., 50%
of participants) reported that their work was emotionally demanding and stressful. In the U.S.,
researchers contend that police officers experience more critical incidents compared to military
personnel and emergency service workers (Liberman et al., 2002). The Federal Bureau of
Investigation (FBI) releases thorough annual statistics akin to – among others – police deaths and
police injury incidents occurred in the line of duty. More specifically, the 2014 FBI statistics
revealed that 51 law enforcement officers were feloniously killed in the line of duty across the
U.S. (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2014). In addition, the number of police deaths in 2014
had increased by 89% compared to the previous year. Analogously, 9.3% of American police
officers had been assaulted during 2013, and 29.2% from those assaulted also sustained injuries
(Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2013). In their study with police officers (n=103) from the
State of New York, Violanti and Aron (1995) aimed to develop a hierarchy of stressors
experienced by police. Their findings revealed that the five top-ranked stressors were: 1) killing
someone in the line of duty, 2) fellow officer killed, 3) physical attack, 4) battered child, and 5)
high speed chases (p. 290). Likewise, pioneering work by Violanti with police officers from the
State of New York has shown that police work is often characterized by prolonged exposure to
extreme stress and trauma and often has a negative impact on police officers’ mental and
physical health (Violanti et al., 2006). More specifically, Violanti and colleagues’ (2006)
longitudinal research demonstrated that police officers are at greater risk of being diagnosed with
heart disease, diabetes, and cancer compared to other workers employed in local government
agencies (Violanti et al., 2005; Violanti, Vena, & Petralia, 1998). Further, American police
officers (compared to the general population) reported much higher rates of depression, PTSD,
burnout, and other anxiety-related mental health conditions (Asmundson & Stapleton, 2008;
Austin-Ketch et al., 2012).
The impact of stress on police performance
Police officers are expected to make life and death decisions (i.e., shoot or not to shoot)
within moments (milliseconds in some cases), all the while considering the laws of the land, and
the best possible outcome for the civilians' and their own lives. Research findings demonstrated
that stress experienced by police officers may have a negative effect on officers’ performance
while on duty (Conrad & Kellar-Guenther, 2006; Norvell et al., 1998; Wright & Saylor, 1991).
For example, extreme stress arousal during a critical incident can result in respiratory changes
(e.g., hyperventilation, or holding one's breath) that impair the areas of the brain that direct fine
motor skills, sensory perception, and visual and auditory acuity. The very skills needed by an
officer to perform well during life-threat situations (Johnson, 2008, p. 121-125). Indeed, Covey
and colleagues (2013) found that police officers with symptoms of stress-related anxiety were
more likely to shoot inappropriately in simulated critical incidents. As officers’ performance
suffers, organizations may notice increases in absenteeism, low job satisfaction, increased
number of sick days, and early retirement or officers leaving policing (Conrad & Kellar-
Guenther, 2006; Norvell et al., 1998; Wright & Saylor, 1991). The authors posit that if early
resilience promotion intervention occurs within police organizations, the cumulative effect of
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police-related stress and trauma may be prevented, at least to a large degree (Papazoglou, 2013;
Papazoglou & Andersen, 2014).
The cumulative effects of police-related stress are not limited merely to the officers
themselves. Police-related stress can negatively impact police organizations as well as local and
national governments’ budgets. Indeed, the Federal Government of Canada spent more than
$13.5 billion on policing in 2012, and this number has grown by $378 million since 2011
(Statistics Canada, 2013). It should be noted that the amount of money spent on policing
worldwide has gradually grown over the years. Costs associated with police health and
rehabilitation continues to rise as well, to the tune of $190 million in Canada alone (Statistics
Canada, 2013). Analogously, the U.S. Federal Government spent over the last fiscal year (2014-
2015) almost $173 billion for police and fire protection (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2014;
Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014; Chantrill, 2015). Not surprisingly, a considerable portion of
the above-mentioned policing expenses are directed towards police officers’ health, early
retirement, and civilian lawsuits against the use of excessive force by the police. We believe that
the rising costs of policing and the research evidence regarding the negative effects of police
stress on health and performance indicate the need to invest in resilience programming.
Proactive prevention strategies applied to maintain optimal mental and physical health among the
police, are both timely and urgently needed.
Mental preparedness training among the police
The capacity of human beings to thrive in the face of adversity and to recover after
exposure to extreme stress and trauma has been extensively studied in scientific literature
(Bonanno, 2004). However, although police officers often receive excellent tactical training,
operational preparation, and equipment to resolve critical incidents effectively, research on the
mental preparedness and interventions to address the psychological stress of policing are sorely
lacking. The lack of police mental preparedness programs have been noted by numerous
scholars who are actively developing resilience promotion programs among police officers (e.g.,
Papazoglou & Andersen, 2014; Andersen et al., 2015; Arnetz et al., 2013; Arnetz et al., 2009).
Such programs need to be evidence-based and customized to police officers’ needs and duties.
The fundamental component of resilience promotion training among the police is mental
preparedness. By the term mental preparedness we refer to: 1) psycho-education about the
psychological and physiological aspects of extreme stress and potential trauma, 2) practice-
focused techniques that allow officers to apply these techniques in their critical incident training
and the real world, and sufficient opportunities to practice the resilience techniques in order that
they become automatic physical and mental responses to the stress of real life policing (Andersen
et al., 2015). Mental preparedness is a vital component of the following integral parts of police
work: a) decision-making, b) situational awareness, and c) efficient energy management. Mental
preparedness allows officers to maintain clarity of thinking and efficient information processing
in order to make accurate decisions while on duty. Situational awareness is closely related to
decision-making. In fact, it is the ability to use one’s sensory perception (e.g., vision, hearing,
touch, etc.) to assess the critical incident situation and engage in information processing that
distinguishes threat from non-threat cues. In tandem with situational awareness is the ability to
prioritize the order in which the threats, as recognized by situational awareness, need to be
mitigated. Mental preparedness provides officers with the tools to remain in a moderate zone of
arousal, which includes enhanced sensory perception and cognitive abilities to respond to the
situation optimally. In addition, efficient energy management is important in police work.
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Police officers respond to many different incidents over their shift and expend a great amount of
energy in order to complete their duties successfully. Both physical and mental stressors deplete
energy levels. Without adequate mental preparation, continual energy depletion leads officers to
feel overwhelmed and exhausted at the end of their shift, with serious negative consequences on
transition to home life and communication with their family. Mental preparedness training
should not be limited to operational police officers; it can also be applied to anyone employed in
a highly stressful position in police or other ‘first responders’ organizations. For example,
officers serving in high stress task forces (e.g., child sexual abuse unit officers, homicide
detectives and administrative position officers) who experience either organizational or
secondary stress and trauma can benefit from mental preparedness training.
In order for a mental preparedness training to be effective, the following conditions must
be considered: i) techniques need to be brief, since police officers are generally responsible for
many different tasks (e.g., administrative work, equipment preparation, responding to critical
incidents), therefore, they do not usually have enough time to apply long-term (or other time-
consuming) techniques. ii) techniques should first be learned in a non-stressful environment, iii)
after the techniques are mastered, they should be applied right before and right after an exposure
to a critical incident. The application of mental preparedness techniques must be applied within
these time intervals (e.g., right before and right after exposure to an incident) in order to prepare,
mentally and physically, for a critical incident and recover from the stress encountered during the
incident. Quick recovery prevents energy depletion and facilitates officers’ preparation
(mentally and physically) for the next call.
Evidence-based resilience promotion techniques
The authors recommend that an organization invest in resilience promotion training
programs that consist of empirically tested, evidence-based mental preparedness techniques.
Currently, the scientific literature regarding resilience promotion training among police is fairly
limited. We conducted a comprehensive literature review and discovered only a handful of
research studies aimed at promoting resilience training among the police. McCraty and Atkinson
(2012) recruited police officers from California (n=64) and applied a breathing technique as a
way to help police officers regulate their physiological stress response, including cardiovascular,
respiratory, and stress hormones. At the end of the study they found that the police officers that
received their resilience-promotion training achieved better job performance (e.g., judgment and
decision-making) in comparison with the group that did not receive resilience promotion training
(McCraty & Atkinson, 2012). In addition, mindfulness training has been identified as an
effective way to reduce officers’ trauma-related symptoms and improve overall resilience
(Chopko & Schwartz, 2013). Christopher and colleagues (2015) developed and applied
mindfulness-based resilience training to police officers (n=62) from a U.S. Pacific Northwestern
state. Their findings showed that police officers that participated in the mindfulness-based
training reported improvement in quality of sleep, anger management, perceived stress, fatigue,
and a reduction in feelings of burnout. Likewise, other research study findings with police
cadets (n=88) from a U.S. Northeastern state revealed that mental skills training – comprised of
controlled breathing, mental performance imagery, and attentional focus exercises improved
memory recall in the same manner as did intense live action training scenarios (Page, Asken,
Zwemer, & Guido, 2015). In the same study, police cadets who reported low levels of stress had
better memory recall of the training scenarios compared to those who reported high levels of
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stress. The aforementioned research findings highlight the crucial role of psychological
resilience training in reducing stress and improving performance among police officers.
In another study, Arnetz and colleagues (Arnetz et al., 2013; Arnetz et al., 2009) tested
the resilience promotion effectiveness of another technique; that is, a relaxation exercise
combined with mental skill rehearsal techniques. Participants in these studies were Swedish
police recruits. In a classroom environment, participants listened to the description of critical
incident scenarios ranked (by experienced police trainers) as the most threatening incidents (e.g.,
robbery and domestic violence). Simultaneously, while listening to the threatening scenario
description, participants were instructed to apply relaxation techniques and visualize themselves
in the critical incident environment trying to resolve the situation effectively. In both studies
(Arnetz et al., 2013; Arnetz et al., 2009) researchers found that the experimental group, which
received the resilience promotion training, reported significant improvement in job performance
(e.g., situational awareness) compared to the control group. In addition, the experimental group
showed better improvement in health outcomes (e.g., sleep patterns and energy repletion)
compared to the control group. Similarly, Andersen and colleagues (2015) applied the resilience
promotion techniques of Arnetz and colleagues (2013, 2009) to a platoon of Regional Special
Response Team members in Finland (a.k.a. “VATI”). The techniques were applied during the
scheduled training of the VATI team organized at the Police University College of Finland. The
researchers found that the VATI officers significantly improved their physiological reactions
(e.g., heart rate reactivity) to critical incident exposure throughout the five training days.
Furthermore, survey participants reported significant improvement in job performance and were
willing to encourage peers from other platoons to learn and apply the resilience techniques
provided by Andersen and colleagues (2015).
Recent research by Andersen and colleagues (2015) built on the aforementioned
resilience promotion research, thus advancing this area of resilience training. These researchers
trained a team of officers from the Special Intervention Unit of the National Police of Finland
(a.k.a. “KARHU”). Participants were actively instructed to apply psychological techniques
aimed at promoting personal resilience as well as job performance. Techniques included:
controlled breathing to enhance physiological control, visual/auditory imagery, and
perception/attention enhancement through slow-motion tactical training. Police officers learned
to effectively incorporate these resilience techniques before, during, and after exposure to critical
incidents. The critical incidents applied in this study (Andersen et al., 2015) were developed by
experienced Police Special Forces trainers so as to be the most threatening incidents (e.g., active
shooter and domestic violence) for the Police Special Forces units. The researchers (Andersen et
al., 2015) found that the experimental group had better stress-related psychophysiological
outcomes (e.g., stress-hormone cortisol levels, heart rate reactivity and recovery time) compared
to the control group. Impartial trainers, expert Special Forces police trainers, were recruited to
rate the participants during the critical incident scenarios. Trainers rated overall performance,
situational awareness, and decision making of the participants. The trainers’ ratings revealed
that officers who participated in the resilience training performed significantly better when
compared to those who did not participate in the resilience promotion training. To our
knowledge, Andersen and colleagues' (2015) study was the first resilience promotion training
applied among Police Special Forces. The results of the research study provided scientific
evidence that resilience promotion training should be incorporated into police units’ training
around the world.
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Discussion, Conclusion, Future Research
Police organizations in democratic societies (e.g., Europe, Canada, and the U.S.) spend
billions of dollars on policing. Many police organizations provide high quality training and
highly technological equipment in order to help police officers maintain peace and order in their
communities. However, given that police officers are routinely tasked face life threatening,
dangerous incidents, it is imperative to provide them with tools to promote resilience and
maintain personal wellbeing. We recommend that police officials establish collaborations with
researchers in the academic world in order to facilitate the integration of resilience techniques
into police training and evaluate the efficacy of such programs. It is imperative that scientific
research “serves those who serve” our communities; that is, research provides police officers
with the necessary techniques so that they manage stress and promote resilience effectively.
Progress in applying resilience training among police officers and first responders is
expected in the years to come. For instance, other police units may also utilize the research
studies described above (e.g., Andersen et al., 2015), (e.g., new recruits, detectives, patrol
officers, etc.). The aim of this article is to raise awareness of the benefits of resilience training to
police professionals, police researchers, and policy makers. Unfortunately, if police stress is not
addressed, research indicates that the impact of trauma exposure on police officers may result in
irreversible mental and physical health problems. That is, treatment after the exposure to trauma
may not be enough for officers to maintain optimal functioning in the line of duty. Therefore, it
is believed that prevention programs must be offered to police officers in addition to post-trauma
interventions. We encourage police professionals, researchers, and policy makers to be proactive
to critical incident stress by investing in empirically tested evidence based mental preparedness
programs for their officers.
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About the Authors:
Professor Judith P. Andersen is a health psychologist who specializes in the psychophysiology of
stress and stress related mental and physical health issues. Professor Andersen has more than a
decade of experience working with populations exposed to severe and chronic stress, combat
soldiers, and police. Currently, Professor Andersen is the director of the Health Adaptation
Research on Trauma (HART) Lab at the University of Toronto. Professor Andersen’s on-going
research projects include measuring mental and physical health changes associated with
resilience training among police and Special Forces teams in Ontario, the U.S., and Europe. Prof.
Andersen is the primary contact for this article. Correspondence can be sent to:
judith.andersen@utoronto.ca
Konstantinos Papazoglou is a psychology doctoral (PhD) candidate (clinical and forensic area)
and a Vanier Scholar at the University of Toronto. He is a former Police Captain of the Hellenic
Police and he holds a master’s degree in mental health counseling from New York University
(NYU). Currently, he works with Professor Judith P. Andersen at the University of Toronto
focusing his research work on stress, trauma prevention, and resilience promotion among police.
He has presented his research in many scientific venues (e.g., American Psychological
Association, Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences) and received many awards (e.g., American
Psychological Association – Criminal Justice Section Outstanding Doctoral Research Award).
Markku Nyman is a psychologist at the Police University College of Finland. He earned his
Master's Degrees in Psychology and in Social Sciences in Tampere University in Finland. At the
Police University College of Finland he is responsible for the psychological assessment of
applicants for basic, continuation, and special training programs, with research and development
of the processes and methods used therein as another main area of interest.
Dr. Mari Koskelainen is a Lecturer at the Police University College of Finland. She completed
her Doctorate in Clinical Psychology at the Plymouth University, UK. She has worked in a
forensic medium secure unit in London, UK completing violence risk assessments. At the Police
University College of Finland she has focused on threat assessment procedures and after-care
arrangements following critical incidents. She is a trained Eye Movement Desensitization and
Reprocessing (EMDR) therapist.
Harri Gustafsberg has worked as a law enforcement officer since 1990. He has been a senior
police officer for 25 years and he worked as a Chief Inspector at the Police University College of
Finland. He served as a member of the Finnish National Special Intervention Unit, called
KARHU, for 22 years. During those years of service he worked as an Instructor Trainer and a
Use of Force Instructor. He was also an Operational Commander and a K9 Instructor. !
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Figure 1: A Police Special Forces Officer’s Physiological Reactivity During a Real-World Shift (04.30-14.00)
Fostering Resilience Among the Police
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Figure 2: A Police Special Forces Officer’s Physiological Reactivity During a Training Day (13.00-14.30)
... However, research offers insights into how efficient coping strategies contribute to emotional and physiological self-regulation through adaptation to complex changing environments and social demands (Crawford et al., 2013). Literature suggests task-oriented models of coping which includes action (LeBlanc et al., 2008); progressive relaxation and mental imaging methods (Arnetz et al., 2013); self-regulation, especially through breathing techniques (McCraty & Atkinson, 2012); humour (Papazoglou & Andersen, 2014); and mindfulness-based training (Andersen et al., 2015;Chen & Grupe, 2021). ...
... The lack of expectation or concerns regarding the content of child abuse interview transcriptions, suggests that there are reasons to question their psychological preparedness for the task. The students did not mention evidence-based self-regulation strategies like progressive relaxation (Arnetz et al., 2013), breathing techniques (McCraty & Atkinson, 2012), or mindfulness-based training (Andersen et al., 2015;Chen & Grupe, 2021) as part of their preparation, thus narrowing their resource toolbox. Meanwhile, research on moral injury and trauma among child abuse investigators advocates for psychoeducation and practice-based solutions, including longer breaks, decompression facilities, and work-rotation (Doyle et al., 2022). ...
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Child abuse investigation can include complex stressors increasing the risk of secondary trauma among police professionals. This study explores the preparedness of police students about to engage in child abuse investigation tasks during their recruit period. We did semi-structured interviews with 19 police students to explore the students’ expectations and resources they relied on to cope with stress. Through thematic analysis, five themes emerged: 1) a worthy challenge and a valuable experience; 2) absence of concern about the burdens of “a job to be done”; 3) “Gotta’ work it out!”—physical activity as the default coping mechanism; 4) seeking social support—the importance of talking to someone; 5) education on stress management is limited to operational stress. The results support increasing students’ preparedness for child abuse investigation through knowledge about potential risks, normal reaction to adverse situations, and a focus on effective coping strategies beyond physical activity. The results call for improved and more diverse stress management education in the police, with an emphasis on evidence based coping strategies and reducing stigma associated with mental health help seeking.
... More precisely, the police force is consisted from professionals called to respond to critical and traumatic events. Research data have revealed that occupational stress and trauma exposure have a negative influence on physical and mental health of policemen (Andersen et al. 2015). During the pandemic, policemen were tasked with promoting compliance with the new laws concerning regional lockdowns and the use of protective measures from the public, while they had to be informed for all the constantly modified laws. ...
... Despite the fact the policemen are frequently trained to handle various types of critical incidents, the application of training programs regarding mental health, such as psychological resilience (Arble et al. 2017;Arnetz et al. 2009), or peer support programs, such as Trauma Risk Management -TRiM (Hunt et al. 2013), does not seem to be a part of their regular training (Andersen et al. 2015). However, several training programs of policemen have been shown to be effective in promoting psychological resilience (Arble et al. 2017;Arnetz et al. 2009), mindfulness (Christopher et al. 2015), emotional intelligence (Romosiou et al. 2019), and decreasing negative effects of high trauma exposure (Hunt et al. 2013). ...
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A significant lack of evidence regarding the effectiveness of psychological first aid (PFA) training of first responders to emergency settings has been reported. The aim of the present study was to assess the effectiveness of a PFA training program on the feeling of confidence on providing help in crisis, knowledge, attitudes, and skills of police officers. Fifty police officers were trained in PFA, using an adapted version of the World Health Organization’s program, and they were compared to a control group of 53 police officers. A PFA questionnaire was used to compare the two groups, before and after the implementation of the PFA training. Results revealed significant improvementson confidence, knowledge, attitudes, and skills of trained police officers, in comparison to controls. Thus, the present results suggest that PFA training programs are effective and should be offered to police officers in order to enhance their capacity to provide PFA in emergency settings.
... Simmons-Beauchamp and Sharpe Ineffecitve Police Leadership Demou et al., 2020). Trauma and stress can erode resiliency (Violanti et al., 2014;Andersen et al., 2015;Tabinia and Radecki, 2018;Carlson-Johnson et al., 2020), and when an officer is worn down, coping in a paramilitary police culture (hierarchal, strong discipline, and directed) becomes exceedingly difficult. Once the workforce, and ultimately the organizational police culture, is negatively affected by ineffective leadership, an officer's ability to cope becomes further compromised. ...
... The ramifications of these symptoms can have significant consequences. Excessive and unmanaged operational stress can lead to poor decision-making, service complaints, risk to police and public safety, and an unhealthy, compromised workforce (Andersen et al., 2015). ...
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Research suggests that Canadian police officers are exposed to trauma at a greater frequency than the general population. This, combined with other operational stressors, such as risk of physical injury, high consequence of error, and strained resources, can leave officers less resilient to organizational stressors. In my experience, a significant and impactful organizational stressor is ineffective leadership, which include leaders who are non-supportive, inconsistent, egocentric, and morally ambiguous. Ineffective leadership in the context of paramilitary police culture has been recognized as psychologically distressing. Further, moral injury may result when leadership fails to meet officers’ needs, expectations, and values. Ineffective leadership and resulting moral injuries are an understudied area in the literature. This review will help provide a comprehensive context of policing and the impact of ineffective leadership on police mental health.
... To understand what to do and to make decisions during police interventions, situational awareness have been identified as an important ability amongst police officers. Situational awareness has, for police officers, been identified as one of the key factors for the possibility to make secure and legally correct interventions and decisions (Andersen & Gustafsberg, 2016;Andersen, Papazoglou, Nyman, Koskelainen, & Gustafsberg, 2015;O'Hare & Beer, 2020). In July 2021, a young Swedish police officer was shot dead in a suburb of Gothenburg 1 by a person driving by in a vehicle. ...
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Police officers' situational awareness during tactical intervention can be crucial for how they act and whether they use the correct level of force in extreme situations. This paper presents preliminary findings in ongoing research focusing on police tactical interventions and situational awareness. Twenty-one police officers were interviewed, and a video sequence of a shorter car chase was used to set the scene in the interviews. The interviewed police officers described their tactical decisions applying the standardized tactical approach applied in the Swedish police. In the analysis, a focus on how situational awareness is gained and how situational awareness is affected by tactical decisions is presented. The study indicates that the situational awareness process begins before the actual intervention (pre-intervention phase). During the actual intervention, situational awareness is very complex. Technology supporting police officers' cognition, as well as management and control of one or many risk areas, is identified.
... The public's view of the police can be affected in this way. While local and national governments invest a lot of money in tactical training and equipment for the police, building resilience is not an essential component of training for the police [6]. On the other hand, [132] Police expertise shows that the contributions of police training to developed skills are in general clearly less than they are considered to be of importance for police work. ...
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... For instance, such training programs were developed for experienced police trainers to help them incorporate resilience promotion techniques in their police training curricula with police trainees [5,6]. Analogously, effective results have been found in previous studies with special weapons and tactics (SWAT) teams where SWAT officers were taught about resilience promotion in both a classroom learning environment and a simulated reality training environment; to this end, SWAT officers who incorporated the learning materials into both classroom and simulated reality environments showed a substantially improved capacity to manage challenges on both realistic training environment as well as real life police work [7][8][9][10][11][12][13]. Therefore, a combination of classroom learning (either in-class and/or online) along with transference of classroom discussions into a realistic training venue appears to be an imperative combination for helping officers incorporate theoretical knowledge in their practical training and real life police work. ...
Chapter
The complexities of modern policing require law enforcement agencies to expand how officers are trained to do their jobs. It is not sufficient for training to focus solely on the law or on perishable skills, such as arrest and control, defensive tactics, driving, and firearms. This chapter addresses the critical importance of infusing academy training with the psychological skills essential for officers to meet contemporary challenges of police work. The skills fall into two main categories: wellness (e.g., emotional regulation, stress tolerance, avoiding risk-taking behavior) and community relations (e.g., social competence, assertiveness, impulse control). Specific methods of incorporating these skills in academy training are offered.
... While still under-researched, the link between moral distress and compassion fatigue seems to be a strong one, to the point where police psychologist Jeff Morley (2003) has described moral distress as an "unfixable suffering" accumulated in the progress of the police career which has its end in compassion fatigue, along with the other detrimental outcomes already discussed in this chapter. This is worrisome since compassion fatigue may lead to PTSD and comorbid disorders, such as panic disorders, depression, and substance abuse (Andersen and Papazoglou, 2015). While not much research has been conducted in this area to establish a strong link between compassion distress and compassion fatigue, researchers have found evidence that such a relationship exists (Blumberg, Papazoglou, and Schlosser, 2020;. ...
Chapter
Policing may lead officers to physical, psychological, and emotional distress. Nonetheless, there is an additional, albeit less studied, threat to officers' well-being. Moral risks, an umbrella term encompassing two interrelated moral struggles—moral distress and moral injury—exacerbate officers' emotional difficulties, spiritual distress, and job dissatisfaction, as well as increase the likelihood of officer misconduct. However, there are psychological interventions that help to minimize the intensity of the psychological and behavioral problems associated with these moral risks and facilitate officers' recovery from these difficulties. This chapter examines the utilization of cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, and other techniques to treat the moral suffering of law enforcement personnel. It provides practical suggestions for using the strategies of these modalities to increase police officers' well-being.
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When they shape expectations about professional behaviours, reforms can threaten professional identities. Using an ethnographic study of police investigators, we reveal how threats to professional identity trigger two collective processes of resilience: working the legal boundaries and securing elitism and cohesion. These processes reveal two types of relationship to compliance: apparent compliance and peer-induced compliance, which manifest through rule-bending and workarounds. At the team level, these forms of compliance fostered resilience by helping police officers to maintain their preferred identity. This study also finds that these manifestations of resilience have mixed consequences for both officers and their institution.
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The primary purpose of the present study was to develop a practical, reliable, and valid self-assessment of the use of psychological skills for law enforcement personnel. The Psychological Skills Inventory – Law Enforcement (PSI-LE) gauges the use of seven central mental skills common within psychological skills training (PST) programs: attention management, winning mindset, combat breathing, muscle control, mental practice, physical recharge, and self-talk. Following a developmental pilot of the scale, the PSI-LE was administered to 576 law enforcement officers. The ensuing analyses resulted in a final 26-item inventory that demonstrated acceptable psychometric properties. Findings are discussed with respect to practical implications and future research involving the PSI-LE. Specific emphasis is placed on the use of the PSI-LE to assess and validate the impact of officer PST programs.
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Law enforcement is a stressful occupation with both work-related and socialrelated stressors. Too much stress can negatively affect behaviours, mental states, and job performance. Centralized police organizations limit officers’ individual autonomy, likely increasing stress. This study examined differences in occupational stress in two different European countries and one Middle East country. Participants were 351 male police officers from Serbia (n=130, age 36±8 yr), Russia (n=121, age 22±4 yr), and Lebanon (n=100, age 36±6 yr) who completed the 20-item Operational Police Stress Questionnaire in their own language. Items were averaged and interpreted as low (≤2.0), stress (2.1–3.4), and high stress (≥3.5). ANCOVA analyses using age as the covariate with Bonferroni post hoc analyses were used. A principle component analysis (PCA) was used to determine stress structure per country. Significant differences were found with lower occupational stress in Russian (p<0.001) and Lebanon (p=0.003) than Serbian officers. PCA factor patterns differed by country, with 6 found for Russian and Lebanese and 3 for Serbian officers. More work-related stressors were rated higher for the younger Russian officers, while more social-related stressors were rated higher for the older Serbian officers. Results suggest that it is vital to consider officers’ stress sources and overall stress levels.
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Research suggests that police work is among the most stressful occupations in the world and officers typically suffer a variety of physiological, psychological, and behavioral effects and symptoms. Officers operating under severe or chronic stress are likely to be at greater risk of error, accidents, and overreactions that can compromise their performance, jeopardize public safety, and pose significant liability costs to the organization. Therefore, this study explored the nature and degree of physiological activation typically experienced of officers on the job and the impact of the Coherence Advantage resilience and performance enhancement training on a group of police officers from Santa Clara County, California. Areas assessed included vitality, emotional well-being, stress coping and interpersonal skills, work performance, workplace effectiveness and climate, family relationships, and physiological recalibration following acute stressors. Physiological measurements were obtained to determine the real-time cardiovascular impact of acutely stressful situations encountered in highly realistic simulated police calls used in police training and to identify officers at increased risk of future health challenges. The resilience-building training improved officers' capacity to recognize and self-regulate their responses to stressors in both work and personal contexts. Officers experienced reductions in stress, negative emotions, depression, and increased peacefulness and vitality as compared to a control group. Improvements in family relationships, more effective communication and cooperation within work teams, and enhanced work performance also were noted. Heart rate and blood pressure measurements taken during simulated police call scenarios showed that acutely stressful circumstances typically encountered on the job result in a tremendous degree of physiological activation, from which it takes a considerable amount of time to recover. Autonomic nervous system assessment based on heart rate variability (HRV) analysis of 24-hour electrocardiogram (ECG) recordings revealed that 11% of the officers were at higher risk for sudden cardiac death and other serious health challenges. This is more than twice the percentage typically found in the general population and is consistent with epidemiological data indicating that police officers have more than twice the average incidence of cardiovascular-related disease. The data suggest that training in resilience building and self-regulation skills could significantly benefit police organizations by improving judgment and decision making and decreasing the frequency of onthe-job driving accidents and the use of excessive force in high-stress situations. Potential outcomes include fewer citizens' complaints, fewer lawsuits, decreased organizational liabilities, and increased community safety. Finally, this study highlights the value of 24-hour HRV analysis as a useful screening tool to identify officers who are at increased risk, so that efforts can be made to reverse or prevent the onset of disease in these individuals.
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Police Special Forces (a.k.a. special weapons and tactics [SWAT]) officers are tasked with responding to the most critical situations, including incidents that require specialized skills and equipment beyond typical policing activities. In this study, we tested the feasibility of applying Arnetz and colleagues’ resilience promotion training that was developed for patrol officers to SWAT team officers (n = 18). The resilience promotion training program included psychoeducation focused on police stress and resilience, and the practice of resilience promotion techniques (controlled breathing and imagery) while listening to audio-recorded critical incident scenarios. The aims of this study were to (a) examine if a resilience training program was relevant and accepted by SWAT team officers and (b) assess participants’ physiological stress responses (heart rate, respiration) during the resilience training sessions to note if there were improvements in stress responding over time. Our findings revealed that participants were able to significantly reduce their average heart rate and improve their ability to engage in controlled respiration (i.e., breathing) during simulated critical incidents over the course of the 5-day training. Improvements in stress responding were observed even when the critical incident scenarios became more graphic. Results suggest that an intervention to reduce stress responses of SWAT officers to critical incident scenarios works in a simulated training setting. Translation of these findings to real-world occupational hazards is a recommended next step.
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Research regarding what police officers currently know (or want to know) about the impact of trauma exposure on mental and physical health is rare. Given that police training and educational practices differ based on country or territory, studies using standardized surveys to discover police officer’s preferences or openness to learning further information about the relationship between stress and health are not available. The goal of this study was to develop a survey to answer the following questions: (a) What do police officers know about stress, trauma, and health? (b) Are police officers interested in attaining more knowledge (and in what ways) about stress, trauma, and health? (c) Are police officers open to seeking help for trauma and/or stress-related issues, and if so, where do they prefer to seek help? The survey was fielded to all of the officers serving in the National Police Service in Finland during the spring and summer of 2014. Results suggest that officers were generally aware of the impact of police work on physical health problems (e.g., sleep disorders, heart-related issues) but had not received formal training about how trauma is related to mental and physical health or personal health risks. Officers were open to learning about both traditional (e.g., peer support) and alternative therapeutic techniques (e.g., relaxation), and many reported willingness to enroll in such programs if offered by the organization. Implications include incorporating evidence-based information regarding the trauma-health link into standard police curricula and providing officers with organizationally supported clinical and peer supports and therapeutic opportunities.
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As first responders who are frequently exposed to job-related trauma, police officers are at an elevated risk of adverse mental and physical health outcomes. Evidence-based approaches to stress reduction are sorely needed to address the complex variety of problems that police officers face. In this pilot study we examined the feasibility and preliminary effectiveness of a mindfulness-based intervention designed to address police officer stress. A total of 43 police officers completed an 8-week Mindfulness-Based Resilience Training (MBRT) program, which was designed to improve mindfulness, resilience, stress, health outcomes, and emotional functioning. Using multilevel models we found significant improvement in self-reported mindfulness, resilience, police and perceived stress, burnout, emotional intelligence, difficulties with emotion regulation, mental health, physical health, anger, fatigue, and sleep disturbance. Although there were no significant pre-to-post-MBRT changes in cortisol awakening response (CAR), while controlling for pre-MBRT increase area under the curve (AUCI), change in mental health was a significant predictor of post-AUCI. Implications of these findings and areas for future research are discussed.
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Researchers have emphasized the importance of direct encounters with the police as a determinant of attitudes toward the police, yet cross-sectional studies allow for limited causal inference. This study includes the measurement of attitudes before and after encounters with the police among African American, Hispanic, and White residents of Chicago. Contrary to previous research, direct contact with the police during the past year is not enough to change attitudes, but vicarious experience (i.e., learning that someone else has had a good or bad encounter with the police) does influence attitudes in a predictable manner. Also, residents’ initial attitudes about the police play a critical role in shaping their judgments of subsequent direct and indirect experiences as well as their future attitudes. The findings are discussed in terms of stereotypes about the police that are resistant to change.
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Psychological performance training has been shown to mitigate the negative effects of stress for police officers. We contributed to this body of evidence using techniques in breathing, mental performance imagery, and attentional focus. One group (experimental) of police academy cadets was trained in these techniques to deal with the stressful event of being sprayed with oleoresin capsicum (OC). Their physiological and behavioral responses to the event were compared to a control group of cadets. The results showed the experimental group demonstrated significantly better memory recall of salient aspects of the OC spray event and that cadets from both groups using controlled breathing during the event scored significantly higher in memory recall. Several trends were found that further suggested the effectiveness of psychological performance training. While heart rate increased from baseline to pre-OC and post-OC measures across groups, there were no group differences at these time points. Our findings add to the growing body of literature on psychological skill training effects on tactical performance and are notable for results of enhanced performance occurring with relatively brief training in the psychological techniques. Because of the ecological design, the findings should generalize to other high stress encounters in policing.
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For the second year we were invited to be trainers at a training seminar for senior police educators, held in the German Federal Police University and sponsored by the European Police College, hence, having the opportunity to build on their previous applications. We applied exercises (psychoeducation, mindfulness/awareness, journaling, processing in dyads) that introduced in this training and designed to teach officers how to handle exposure to adversities and minimize potential negative consequences. Police officers expect exposure to potentially traumatic incidents, yet, often suffer deeply because of unresolved trauma related to handling horrific events. Our work aimed to open discussion in order to formulate a standard component in training curricula related to teaching police trainees ways to effectively handle and process trauma.
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Police officers face chronic stress and exposure to traumatic events in the line of duty. Over the course of their career, officers often experience mental and physical health issues related to such exposures. The authors propose that police educators are an untapped resource, able to teach trainees at the start of their career about the health realities of chronic exposure to critical incidents and provide training about positive coping skills and resilience. Training officers from the beginning of their career may well serve to break down barriers such as stigma against seeking mental health treatment that are inherent in traditional police culture. This article explores brief, culturally relevant, evidence-based exercises that can be incorporated into police training curricula to promote resilience to future stress. We provide recommendations for future research and numerous resources that police educators can incorporate into their curriculum regarding these issues. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2014 APA, all rights reserved)
Article
The study of police officers’ trauma through the police culture perspective reveals a unique form of trauma with biological, psychological, and sociocultural implications. The author presents an inclusive and dimensional theoretical conceptualization of police trauma, termed Police Complex Spiral Trauma (PCST), which constitutes a symbolic representation of the cumulative and complex form of police trauma that often expands as a unified process and form through time, tension, and frequency of police officers’ multiple and potentially traumatic exposure during their life-long career. This perspective of police trauma will help us better understand its distinct nature, inspire the formulation of research questions for an exploration of multifaceted evidence-based treatments that correspond to the challenges of police work, and develop relevant curricula for police trainees and preventive intervention policy programs.
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Mindfulness-based treatments have been identified as potentially effective for reducing posttraumatic stress symptoms, however the validity of research has been questioned especially among first responders due to ill-defined aspects of mindfulness. This study investigated the relationship between various dimensions of mindfulness (utilizing the Kentucky Inventory of Mindfulness Skills; KIMS) and posttraumatic stress symptoms (utilizing the Impact of Events Scale-Revised; IES-R) among active-duty police officers (N = 183). Multiple regression analyses showed that greater IES-R avoidance and intrusion subscale scores were predicted by lower KIMS accepting without judgment subscale scores. Greater IES-R hyperarousal subscale scores were predicted by lower KIMS accepting without judgment and describing subscale scores. Implications of these findings are discussed.