Stress in police forces

Juan Alcaraz Días (Police Affairs)

Stress ignores differences in culture, gender, religion or race. We can’t see it, we can’t touch it; but more than one person has ever felt their heart beating faster than it should; their muscles are twitching or their hands and feet freezing. All of these are signs that the body has been put on alert to fight or to flee.

Everyone knows what stress is, but it only becomes a cause for concern when it causes problems. A cause-and-effect relationship has been established between stress and heart disease, hypertension, arrhythmia; ulcers and other gastrointestinal disorders; lung problems and conditions of the muscles and skeleton; etc. It is also known to be an aggravating factor for a multitude of widespread psychosomatic diseases. These disorders are probably the cause of more than 75% of medical consultations. 

However, under certain circumstances, stress can be unpleasant. Many professions are by their very nature stressful, and precisely because of the tensions they generate and the challenges they present, they are chosen by both men and women. It is also true, however, that many of them are unaware of the harmful effects this can have on their physical and mental health in the long run.

Police forces must therefore take into account the effects of stress on their staff, both in career development and in operational and management services. Working in the Police Force is often tricky and complicated. The pace of work is usually high, responsibilities are many and the margin of error non-existent. The police must always be on their guard to be able to react instantly to incidents that arise. Some shifts are exhausting – either day or night – because public safety must be guaranteed 24 hours a day. There are also investigation services that cannot be relieved; visiting several cities in a single day for protection tasks or being on the road for several days for monitoring and surveillance.

Recognising that, beyond a specific limit, there is nothing to be done or very little to reduce the tensions that occur in many Services; the problem could be combated through initial training, continued with the holding of Seminars. The aim would be to teach police personnel how to deal with everyday stress, whether or not it is related to their work. Police officers could thus discover different methods of combating stress, preventing it from becoming an obstacle in their daily lives, not to mention the development of sporting activities.

Related image

The physical form must be part of the requirements of the trade. Everyone knows that a body in good physical condition can withstand stress better than one that is not. Once the alert is over, a healthy body regains its composure more quickly. However, it should be noted that too much stress can be more conducive to stress than to well-being. This may lead us to another critical issue: the calming effect of physical activity depends – to a large extent – on physical wear and tear and the way a person views it.

Sometimes, the police officer alone will not be able to deal with the problem of stress. So a Personal Assistance Plan will have to be put in place, with specialised psychologists to help them. Their families overcome any critical situation that may lead to alcoholism or marital failure and thus decide whether they can continue with their work or should be discharged due to illness.

All my professional life – almost 45 years of service – I have missed assistance like the one described above. It is essential to train both managers and subordinates to understand the stress factors and how to react to them. Those who require help should be able to consult a specialist who will treat them confidentially, given the sensitivity of the issue. The better known the Personal Assistance Plan is, the more it will be used.

I am aware that our police organisation, through the Health Service, knows that there is not much that can be done to reduce the stress to which our police officers are subjected, since most of them like the difficulties they encounter in the exercise of their profession. The Personal Assistance Scheme should aim to provide officers with the means to measure the effects of harmful and beneficial stress, so that a balance, however fragile, can be achieved.

In the labour field, the High Court of Justice of Andalusia, in a ruling dated 01.06.2017, allows stress to be considered an accident at work. In this sense, it has granted permanent total disability to a worker, a factory manager, who suffered from a syndrome resulting from chronic labour stress, as a result of how she carried out her activity, always in an exhaustive, self-demanding way and with great responsibility. 

For sure that this will be the path that our Social Courts will follow.