Statement of Purpose To evaluate how place (i.e. urban and rural) impacts stressors for law enforcement officers (LEOs) during traumatic calls for service.
Methods/Approach LEOs were recruited for six focus groups across one urban and one rural police department from April to November 2019. A semi-structured format was used to gain insight into how officers respond to consecutive high-stress calls for service, including the mechanistic effects of decompression techniques and mental health care utilization. Transcripts were thematically analyzed in an iterative deductive and inductive coding scheme to identify anticipated and emergent findings.
Results A total of 22 LEOs participated, with mean ages of urban and rural officers of 37.9 and 40.8, respectively. Several similarities between urban and rural LEOs emerged related to consecutive stress: 1) Lack of officers to meet high volume of calls; 2) Stringent and fluid management; 3) Environmental stressors leading to a cyclical nature of calls. Rural officers reported unique stress due to: 1) Distance to calls 2) Lack of partners; 3) Lengthy backup response times; 4) Limited or no access to mental health care. Urban officers uniquely reported: 1) Large volume of civilian-police interactions; and 2) Negative perceptions from media and the public.
Conclusions While all LEOs experience consecutive stress, the nature of the stress differs by rural vs. urban employment location. Additional research and interventions for these two, unique populations are needed to combat consecutive stress and reduce LEO injuries.
Significance and Contributions to Injury and Violence Prevention Science Consecutive and continuous exposure to high-stress calls may influence police officers’ immediate risk for morbidity and mortality and inhibit their decision-making ability. Past literature has only focused on single police departments making it difficult to evaluate how context, like urban and rural environments, influence LEO stress.
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