Adversely Responding to Occupational Stress
Law enforcement and the various professions within criminal justice are undeniably stressful occupations. Research suggests that occupational stress is among the highest in criminal justice professions (Christopher et al., 2020). Consequently, there is significant research regarding stress and law enforcement work. According to Territo and Sewell (2019), many influences contribute to police officer stress, such as the administrative culture inside law enforcement agencies, the traumatic events that police officers experience daily, and frequent rotating and irregular shifts. In addition to the stress experienced by the law enforcement personnel that protect life and property, law enforcement officers and personnel within the criminal justice system have a problem identifying and managing stress. Subsequently, personnel within law enforcement will often exhibit negative coping responses to occupational stress.
Adversely Responding to Occupational Stress
In recent years, many urban cities across the United States have reported unprecedented numbers of violent crimes, gun violence, and homicides. Of these major cities, the nation’s fourth-largest police department reported roughly 563 homicides in 2021, a record high. As of 2022, the department is on pace to break the prior year’s record. As a result, detectives within the department’s Homicide Unit are overwhelmed, work extremely long and irregular work hours, and are subjected to trauma each and every day. Each of these factors experienced by these homicide detectives contributes to the undeniable amount of stress they experience and cope with. An example of a common and unhealthy coping mechanism for stress is excessive drug or alcohol use. In a study conducted by Zavala and Kurtz (2017), it was discovered that approximately 25% of law enforcement officers report having stress-related issues with alcohol consumption.
Within their 16-hour work shift, homicide detectives investigated three separate homicides and did not finish for the day until 2:00 am. Three homicides is an overwhelming number for homicide detectives to investigate in one shift. Consequently, the detectives are extremely stressed, tired, and overworked. These detectives were to report back into their office at 9:00 am for their next tour of duty. Instead of going home and receiving adequate sleep for their next shift, a group of detectives decided to meet in the building’s parking lot and consume several cans of beer to relieve stress. While in the parking lot, these detectives were carrying their guns and badges and were considered in uniform. Not only is alcohol consumption a negative response to stress management, but according to the detective’s departmental policy, members of the department are prohibited from indulging in alcohol while off-duty in uniform or partial uniform. Secondly, after approximately two hours of drinking, each detective drove home considerably intoxicated. The following day, many detectives arrive late and hungover at work. One detective could not report for his tour of duty due to being hungover. This behavior has occurred weekly, and many other detectives have subsequently complained to supervisors about these detectives’ work performance.
Organizational Conflict and the Need for Conflict Resolution
Excessive drug and alcohol use among criminal justice professionals can create problems for the employee and the organization of which that individual is a part. Thus, the misuse of alcohol and drugs presents a conflict for all criminal justice professionals. Considering the adverse consequences of law enforcement officer abuse of alcohol, it is essential that the behavior is well-documented and that solutions and conflict resolution plans are developed that aid and benefit police departments, other law enforcement agencies, and their employees. Proverbs 23:29-35 states,
“Who hath woe? who hath sorrow? who hath contentions? who hath babbling? who hath wounds without cause? who hath redness of eyes? They that tarry long at the wine; they that go to seek mixed wine. Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth his colour in the cup, when it moveth itself aright. At the last it biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder. Thine eyes shall behold strange women, and thine heart shall utter perverse things. Yea, thou shalt be as he that lieth down in the midst of the sea, or as he that lieth upon the top of a mast. They have stricken me, shalt thou say, and I was not sick; they have beaten me, and I felt it not: when shall I awake? I will seek it yet again. (King James Version, 1769/2017)
In these verses, it is apparent that excessively drinking alcohol is a sin. Additionally, Christians are informed that the abuse of alcohol can cause sorrow and is as deadly as a bite from a serpent. Not only does excessive drinking cause sorrow and woe, but also causes conflict in those that abuse alcohol. As God’s children and protectors of life and property, it is essential that law enforcement officers avoid the sin of excessive alcohol consumption and conflict.
Christopher, M., Bowen, S., & Witkiewitz, K. (2020). Mindfulness-based resilience training for aggression, stress and health in law enforcement officers: study protocol for a multisite, randomized, single-blind clinical feasibility trial. Trials, 21(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13063-020-4165-y
King James Bible. (2017). King James Bible Online. https://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org/ (Original work published 1769)
Territo, L., & Sewell, J. (2019). Stress Management in Law Enforcement, Fourth Edition (4th ed.). Carolina Academic Press.
Zavala, E., & Kurtz, D. L. (2017). Using Gottfredson and Hirschi’sA General Theory of Crimeto Explain Problematic Alcohol Consumption by Police Officers: A Test of Self-Control as Self-Regulation. Journal of Drug Issues, 47(3), 505–522. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022042617706893