Statement of purpose Evaluate how external, national events in 2020 (i.e. COVID-19 pandemic, social justice, and the political climate) impacted law enforcement officer (LEO) stress.
Methods/Approach In September 2020, 18 patrol officers with at least one-year post-academy experience were recruited from two police departments (urban and suburban) for semi-structured interviews. The purpose of the interviews was to explore if and how LEO stress changed due three specific external, nationwide stressors: 1) global pandemic; 2) social injustice; and 3) political climate. Interviews were conducted virtually and lasted approximately 1 hour. Emergent findings were grouped into categories of themes using an immersion-crystallization approach.
Results The average participant was 34 years old and 83% of officers were non-Hispanic White. The COVID- 19 pandemic contributed to officer stress in three ways: 1) fewer, but more serious calls for service (i.e. homicides); 2) vulnerability of COVID-19 infection and fear of transmission to immediate family; and 3) financial instability from changes in side jobs (outside police work) and spouses’ incomes. The political climate and social justice movements also contributed to officer stress through: 1) negative perceptions from the media and the public; 2) concerns about departmental support if force is exercised; and 3) concerns for own safety not directly related to calls for service (i.e. being ambushed). Additionally, officers reported stress overall due to changing guidance from administration. Together, the compound stress led to less proactive policing to avoid civilian encounters.
Conclusions LEOs experienced heightened levels of multifaceted stress due to 2020 events. Additional resources or interventions should immediately be implemented to combat mental health among LEOs.
Significance LEOs deal with chronic stress due to unique occupational duties. While high baseline levels of stress have been identified, the impact of 2020 events on stress had yet to be examined.
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