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Police Stress @ Law Enforcement Stress ~ line: - Updated August 24




Law Enforcement Stress

police stress

by Hal Brown, LICSW, police therapist
police counseling
Articles about Police Stress, plus Police Humor, Topical Discussions, Commentary, Questions & Answers, Reviews of Police Books: for Police and Law Enforcement Officers, their families and friends.



August 24, 1998 -

The Tragic Outcome of Police Stress:

Police Suicide


The Boston Globe, Sunday August 23, 1998 and August 24 featuring a lengthy article on police suicide.

by Hal Brown, LICSW

Police Stress Therapist and Special Police Officer

On Sunday morning I had already dragged myself, bleeding and feeling stupid and sorry for myself, out of the pick-up truck I backed into the ditch of one of our cranberry bogs, (Click here to see), when I picked up the Sunday paper and my self-absorption immediately dissipated when I saw the top headline Suicide epidemic spreads through police ranks. The lengthy two part article by David Armstrong covered all the aspects of police suicide, though I was disappointed at first to see what I thought was a hint of a negative slant given to the well known fact that the statistics on police suicide are unreliable because of how many police suicides are reported as accidental.

Maybe that's just my biased reading of the article, the cop part of me has a tendency to get defensive when I feel an outsider is attacking law enforcement. It is an important fact. Police stress in general and police suicide in particular has been ignored, misrepresented, and inadequately studied. In part this is because far too many police suicides have been covered up, often as the article suggests, because of embarrassment, life insurance considerations, and potential law suits. The result of under-reporting has been that remedial actions that could have saved lives have not been taken, and too many police departments (and correction departments as well) have not developed police stress programs and critical incident debriefing procedures.

The percentages of suicide in law enforcement are staggering. But even one police suicide is one too many. The fact is that virtually all suicide caused by depression and anger is preventable with appropriate intervention.

Police officers are no different than anyone else when it comes to the vicious cycle of despair that accompanies, and is part and parcel of suicidal depression. Like a snake eating it's tail, depression feeds on itself. Instead of recognizing that feeling hopeless is a symptom of depression, you interpret the feeling as a fact, and begin to think thoughts that support and fuels the feeling and makes it worse.

There's one form of suicide that can be remedied without a police stress therapist or counselor, and that's suicide caused by insensitive police administration. In instances when officers feel betrayed or abandoned by their bosses and hung out to dry, for whatever reason, it is common for depression to result. Anger, outrage and resentment, often justified, can mask the underlying depression. While it sounds adolescent, and police officers in particular rarely admit thinking it, suicide is often preceded by the thought: I'll show them. Police suicides that occur on duty are often the result of rage at the police bureaucracy. Officers can become so emersed in visualizing the scene of being discovered dead at the wheel of their cruiser that it doesn't really sink in that they won't be around to witness the goings on.

Even a police officer who has betrayed his or her oath doesn't deserve to die. In fact, when a police officer is suspended pending an investigation which could result in serious disciplinary action, referral to a police stress counselor (with whom confidentiality is assured) should be standard operating procedure.

There's really no such thing as run-of-the-mill police stress. Police officers are so adept at pretending everything is copacetic that what appears to be minor stress can really be the tip of the iceberg. And we know what happened to the Titanic. Every warning sign of stress must be taken seriously. It is better to err on the side of caution than ignore a problem that could result in the death of an officer.


OnDuty Police Online Magazine Stressline article "Making it in a Man's World: The Trials, Tribulations and Triumphs of the Lady Cop" is reprinted in the August issue of On Duty Magazine



Added August 16, 1998: What's in a name: Is Corrections Correct?

Added August 10, 1998: Why In-house police stress counselors and corrections stress officers need to be independent





Some thoughts on police stress for first time visitors below, or go to:


Welcome to the police stress web site. This web site deals with the unique stress of police work. Often, though, when I refer to police stress what I say applies to stress among all law enforcement officers, correction officers, firefighters, EMS personnel, and police families and police spouses. Especially, police spouses. Other service professions protect and serve, and police stress has become a term that often encompasses the stress of a being a member of a subculture within society composed of people who deal with life and death. All you have to do is watch an accident scene when firefighters, EMS, and police are all working together to understand the commonalities between these professionals. All of these dedicated professionals must be willing to put themselves in harms way to do their job. They are the people who run towards gunfire, not away from it; and go into burning buildings, not out of them.

In these violent times any crime or accident scene can erupt into a dangerous confrontation. Who ever heard the term "road rage" ten years ago? Who ever thought expectorated saliva (AKA: spit) would become a potential weapon? "A.I.D.S." The initials meant nothing. Latex gloves and eye protectors have probably saved as many public safety personnel lives (and a lot of worry) as bulletproof vests.

Police and correction officers belong to a subculture within that subculture because of the power of the badge and the dangers that go with carrying it. Whether you call it "The Thin Blue Line" or just "the job", carrying that badge and gun does make you someone different because of:

the authority to arrest, to take away if only for a short time our most basic freedom which is to come and go as we please;

and the power of the gun (and baton, pepper spray, etc.)

the police can under certain circumstances kill or physically harm a citizen. Even the military can't do this unless mobilized and authorized to do so under martial law or by order of the governor.

Police and correction officers (as well as prison nurses, counselors and doctors) never know when they may become the target of individuals who intend to harm or kill them.

Like firefighters who must enter burning buildings and EMS personnel who deal with AIDS, hepatitis and TB as well as violent subjects, they must also be willing to put their lives on the line to protect citizens. Any member of the emergency response team can become a target.


Police stress takes a huge toll. Police stress can come on quickly as a result of a critical incident like a shooting, or it can come on slowly. Police often don't seek counseling for reasons which are discussed in articles here. Police counseling is a relatively new specialty in the mental health professions. Police counseling hasn't attracted many mental health professionals, reasons for this are also discussed in an article on this web site, but briefly it has to do in part with the fact that many psychotherapists haven't been inclined to get the first hand exposure to police and police work needed to develop a genuine knowledge base and true empathy for what it is like to be "on the job".

Police counseling, police peer counseling, even critical incident stress management, and critical incident stress debriefing (CISM and CISD) while they have been known to be exceeding helpful for at least twenty years, are still not employed often enough. While society is fascinated by the police profession, police stress is not part of the "glamorous" aspect of "the job". For every depiction in the media of police stress there must be a hundred car chases and shoot-outs. I cannot emphasize enough that police stress is an issue that everyone, from police officers and those close to them, and others in the "on the front line" professions, needs to fully understand and in a sense inoculate themselves against as best they can. It is too easy and entirely natural for people working in these professions to use humor and denial as ways to avoid the emotional impact of what they see and do as part of their jobs. I am frequently reminded of this, and it was brought home to me again the other day when I talked to a MedFlight nurse at a training exercise. She told me about how she and her colleagues use humor to cope with the fact that they see only the most serious cases and have the most loss of life despite their valiant efforts. At least she is working in a team all of the time. Police officers experience more police stress when their assignment is such that they work alone, or because of the culture within their department, they feel they must keep their feelings to themselves. This happens with the Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) deputies in Massachusetts. While some may think their job is a low-stress one involving crime scene investigation, fingerprint dusting, automobile accident reconstruction and so on, it isn't. They also have to photograph the victims or crime and accidents to do their job and then generally go back to a department where there is usually noone to talk to who was also at the scene.

Seeking professional help or even showing emotion when "debriefing" after handling a trauma is sometimes seen as a weakness. It is important for good mental health that police counseling is a seen as a valid, vital resource for those who truly protect and serve us. I say this not just because police counseling is my area of specialty, but because I have police and correction officers who are my friends as well. Working as a reserve officer for twenty years doesn't make me a "real cop", but it has made me some true friends, and given me a better appreciation of police stress than I would otherwise have. I will be writing about police stress and responding to your concerns as you let me know about them on this web site. I promise to be forthright and direct, because you have enough "police stress" without having "shrink stress" thrown at you too.

Guestbook and more below or go to:

Click here to see the coolest police cruiser of the summer. Or take the tour of Plymouth Harbor ; or if you're living far from the ocean and crave the salt air and want to go to the cyber-beach you can check out Little Harbor Beach on Buzzard's Bay. And, Webmasters, there are fourteen beach backgrounds (sand, stones, water etc.) which you are free to use on your own web site.

Farmer wannabe's, cranberry fans, and the just plain curious, check out the Unlikey Cranberry Farmers page for an online tour of our cranberry bogs. If you'd like to visit in person, there's an open invitation for all law enforcement officers to get the free grand tour. In fact, if you come during harvest, the first three weeks in October, you can experience the ultimate in police stress relief. Taking our cue from Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, for two bits we'll let you join the picking crew. We charge you a little extra for the privilege of working in the rain. It's police stress relief, after all. And of course, you get all the raw berries you can eat on the job.


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