Aaron Russell is an Implementation Specialist at InTime, as well as a law enforcement veteran with 30 years of experience. In the Root Issues of Cumulative Stress in Police Departments Webinar, he tackles the root problem of cumulative stress in policing.
This informative webinar highlights three areas:
- Different types of stress in police departments
- Departmental stress and why reducing it is key to also reducing cumulative stress
- Reducing stress through organizational intervention
Key problem of stress in law enforcement
In law enforcement, it’s important to remember that you will never walk out unscathed. However, not everything you do has to be a battle. Current law enforcement executives have the chance to shield their troops and make impactful changes within their departments.
Stress is a biogenic reaction. Stress is pressure we feel from our surroundings, which forces us to react in some way. The key to this definition is contained in a single word: feel.
A feeling can be real or perceived, based on a past experience or future desire, and is unique to the individual. Feelings are extremely powerful. While stress is a broad topic and would take several weeks to discuss, the webinar focuses on cumulative stress and how police departments can reduce it.
Cumulative stress in law enforcement
Cumulative stress in police departments is made up of four components:
- Police work stress (critical/traumatic)
- These are unfortunate byproducts of law enforcement. In law enforcement, it’s impossible to plan, control and predict. However, just because things happen unplanned, it doesn’t mean we can’t prepare ourselves. While this isn’t a part of this webinar, being prepared is something police departments can do for themselves in numerous other ways.
- External stress (court, media, attitudes and perceptions)
- If you work in law enforcement, you know you have very limited control over this. Stress is the pressure we feel from our surroundings which forces us to react in some way. However, we ultimately have no control over the court, media, attitudes and public perception.
- Internal stress (family, behavioral, relationship)
- The transfer of our perceptions and feelings can affect us positively or negatively throughout the day. In forensic science, we’re taught Locard’s Principle: a perpetrator of a crime will bring something into the crime scene and leave with something of it. The same principles work with feelings and emotions. Negatives spread if left unchecked and positive ones will die if they’re not nurtured.
- Departmental stress
- Policing, rumors, administrative practices, the job itself—these are all a source of contention. Everyone is aware that just because you’re on your day off, when the phone rings you’re headed in to deal with someone who is unable to cope with their own life stressors.
Stress as a multiplier
The result of extended exposure of stress is stress multiplication. In policing, we have to deal with stress from the four above-mentioned waterfalls that come in at different rates. If one bucket is full, the others don’t stop.
Not all stress is created equal. Some of the hardest stress to control is police work stress. However, departmental stress is easier to control because it’s made up of departmental habits and procedures, and can be influenced by effective leadership. The goal of the webinar is to control the flow of the departmental stress cascade. Constant energy expenditures without adequate rest and recovery leads to burnout, errors, health challenges and diminished performances.
Departmental stress in policing
When looking at police departments, emotions like fear, frustration, patience, and anger are toxic and can cause the release of stress hormones within the department. In policing, these emotions are well within our control if we want to make a change. Unspoken feelings of anxiety, frustration, and annoyance can be detected by others. These unspoken feelings can send mixed messages and are contagious within an organization.
An estimated 70% of workplace mistakes can be traced back to problems of communication. In 2016, the Joint Commission estimated miscommunication among medical staff while transferring patients contributed to almost 80% of serious medical errors. Miscommunication in every industry and field can lead to negative outcomes.
One of the most important processes is self-awareness and a growth mindset. In order to stop energy drains, improve resilience and decrease stress, we must identify unnecessary energy expenditures. Being open to new perspectives and challenges is an opportunity for personal and organizational growth. This can start with organizational management.
Organizational management in policing to decrease stress
Organizational management is key to decreasing departmental stress. Evaluating your police department’s current processes means:
- Learning and complying with best practices
- Eliminating duplicate work efforts to minimize stress
- Optimizing communication
- Reducing risk
- Managing taxpayer funds
Reducing departmental stress will reduce cumulative stress. If you want to drive change, you will need to complete an organizational intervention. You can begin your process or organizational intervention by:
- Assessing realistic vs. unrealistic
- Restructuring the work environment
- Accepting the givens
- Focusing on success
- Reducing communication difficulties
- Eliminating excessive paperwork
Change is hard everywhere, but particularly difficult in law enforcement. If you notice a process within your organization that is driving miscommunication and adding to cumulative department stress, the first step is to ask the question, “Why do we do this?”
If the answer to that question is either, “it’s always been done that way” or “because I said so”, those are red flags of a problem. Those responses convey a lack of knowledge to the questions asked and they breed frustration and anger that can be eliminated.
Cops hate change and the way things are. Change is hard, but time, energy and money is continually wasted on miscommunication. A major source of miscommunication is our inner drama, which is the mental/emotional processing that happens after any event. Inner drama includes brooding, rehashing, being judgemental, and negatively projecting. There’s a large overlap of departmental and inner stress, and you can’t effectively address one without the other.
Event + response = outcome
This equation is important to remember for many aspects of life, but especially important in policing and managing police stress. You do not control the events, you do control the response, and you create an outcome, but you do not control them.
To control means you have command, not just influence. This can be hard to embrace for cops. As cops, you’ll feel more control because you are, you’ll be able to see better opportunities because you can. You’re in control of your response which will yield a better outcome. However, you must also understand you must nurture, support and guide any solution you find.
How InTime helps with department stress
In this webinar, Aaron Russell speaks on how four years after the implementation of InTime at his department, he reevaluated the entire solution to make sure everything worked. Here are his key takeaways:
- Confusion of scheduling was removed
- Everything was streamlined and cost efficient
- Union grievances due to overtime was eliminated
- Also, the ability to spend leave time well was a bonus
- Access to incident reports was invaluable for future OT budget
And the greatest takeaway: InTime minimized and mitigated miscommunication and stress across the entire department.
The Bottom Line
By being self-aware through identifying the slightest issue like scheduling, you have the potential to remove negative growth from spreading within your department.
There are other systems and tasks that are done daily that can be improved. It’s important to protect your officers and make positive changes in the community. Everyone in law enforcement is a leader. Each officer, whether you hold a rank on your sleeve or collar, was hired because you are leaders. How and where can you lead the change in your department and life?
Change doesn’t happen overnight in this profession. It takes time and dedication to make improvements from within.
Remember the quote “a river cuts through rock, not because of its power, but because of its persistence”. Patience and persistence is needed to lower stress in your life and department. Cumulative stress is a forced multiplier, but where can you start chipping away at it?