It's not easy being a public safety officer. In particular, police personnel face a huge number of duties and responsibilities. This goes along with the dangerous nature of their jobs, which is certainly responsible for some stress on its own. The burden is on law enforcement leaders to ensure their employees don't burn out under these circumstances.
Stress management is an essential process to keep officers safe, so that they can protect their communities in turn. Failure to invest in on such programs could cause serious problems for departments. In keeping with the multiple causes of on-the-job stress, there are a number of steps departments can take to help their personnel.
A recent California Police Chief report revealed that the many proverbial hats police officers are expected to wear today can lead to serious problems over time. David Blake, a psychological consultant and 16-year law enforcement veteran, told the source that there's a "cognitive overload" that comes with today's extremely complex set of duties.
Adding a new responsibility doesn't just mean learning to perform the related activities. Each task performed by a police officer possesses its own regulations and legal specifications. When officers receive a long list of new responsibilities over a short time frame, it can lessen focus and make individuals more prone to mistakes. The situation is a recipe for on-the-job stress.
Even the equipment and tactics designed to safeguard officers' lives can be overwhelming when stress management programs aren't up to scratch. Livermore Police Sergeant Keith Graves told California Police Chief that the vast amount of tools carried by modern law enforcement personnel comes with additional worries. Training and certifications are required for many of the pieces of equipment in today's kit, and unless departments are well organized, these can be tricky to manage.
Fighting back against stress
Tense and overwhelmed workforces aren't rare today, and law enforcement leaders need to find ways to get their officers back on the right track. American Military University professor and full time police lieutenant Victor Van Ness shared some advice for achieving this end with Police One. For instance, he recommended that officers take vacation time when it's available. He noted that it's not uncommon for officers to carry vast amounts of unused days off. In these cases, it's time to take a break and come back refreshed.
One of the positive developments in recent years is the rise of mandatory time off and counseling sessions. Departments that directly address topics such as stress and the emotional demands of police work are likely making things a little better for their officers. Explaining why he teaches a course on stress management, Van Ness told Police One that departments should go beyond the few hours a year that some devote to managing tension. Learning to express and handle occupational stress could literally save officers' lives.
An organized department
When departments use workforce management software that is designed specifically for public safety, they have a tool to help keep their officers' schedules as organized as possible, removing a potential cause of problems. When training sessions, certifications and compliance are managed in a centralized system, with automatic reminders and a simple, calendar-based schedule view, there's less chance of things coming up at the last moment. There are still a host of duties to manage, but they're under greater control and oversight.
This type of comprehensive software also tracks time off effectively, with systems such as vacation bidding handled digitally. This ensures that every officer gets his or her fair chance at time off, while ensuring no shift goes under-staffed. By taking some of the back-office complications out of managing a police workforce, these systems help chiefs help their employees.