To characterize law enforcement officer (LEO) resilience to physiological and psychological stress and describe the impact of cumulative traumatic exposure on resilience.
Patrol officers at five of the Dallas Police Department divisions volunteered to participate in 1.5 hour semi-structured focus groups. Focus groups (n=18 LEO) assessed experiences with traumatic calls and cumulative stress over the course of a shift. Transcripts were thematically analyzed in an iterative deductive/inductive coding scheme to identify anticipated and emergent findings.
The majority of participants were male and ages ranged from 23 to 61 years (mean=38 years). Participants were 67% non-Hispanic white and 56% had a four-year college degree. Officer resilience emerged in many forms, including officer-nominated local innovations and immediate and distal coping mechanisms. Resilience to traumatic calls over time was significantly influenced by tenure. For experienced LEOs (>10 years of service), a reduction in adrenaline reaction was recognized for high-stress calls similar to past encounters. Participants describe a peak of perceived adrenaline rush, which they subsequently become resilient to reaching during similar circumstances.
The frequency at which LEO respond to high-stress calls was described as a method of instinctively building resilience to situational stress reactions. This suggests that previous LEO experiences could have an integral part in influencing the physiology and psychology of LEO stress reactions on the job. The themes gathered serve to inform future areas of the study, as well as a predictive algorithm that can build in time between high stress calls to improve LEO occupational health and safety.
LEO experience stressful calls for service on a daily basis, which may cumulatively compound placing the LEO and civilians at risk of unintended consequences, like PTSD, injury, or mortality. To our knowledge, the degree of occupational stress resilience among LEO has not been considered for intervention in the cumulative stress pathway.
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