Law enforcement duties are stressful under normal conditions. With the global COVID-19 pandemic the organizational and personal stress levels are elevated beyond the normal stressors associated with policing. No one could have imaged a few months ago, fellow officers becoming sick or quarantined. It is extremely difficult to practice recommended social distancing guidelines when your responsibilities and duties require public contact with citizens. Managing personal stress during this difficult time, it is more important than ever for law enforcement officer to display and practices emotional intelligence and resilience. We are learning as we go, and this unknown is driving higher stress levels in law enforcement organizations and their officers.
COVID-19 Personal Stress
Law enforcement employees and their families face high levels of stress unlike others in the general population, and this was prior to the COVID-19 emergency (Donnelly et al., 2015). Lai et al. (2020) conducted a cross-sectional study of 1257 healthcare workers in 34 hospitals that are managing patients with COVID-19 in China. The study found that healthcare workers reported experiencing depression, anxiety, and distress (Lai, et al., 2020). These emotions and feelings are also being felt by federal, state, and local law enforcement officers. Sadly, to date, there are 34 law enforcement officers who have died from illnesses associated with COVID-19 (Fallen Officers From the COVID-19 Pandemic, 2020).
Greco (2020) offered 10 tips for first responders to manage stress during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is ever more important for police officers to check-in with each other and offer suggestions to help manage personal stress in this difficult time. Officers are resilient by nature, and they respond to positive peer-support so take the time to check-in and make sure your co-workers have a plan and managing stress in healthy ways. The thin blue line is stronger when we encourage each other in the good and bad times.
COVID-19 Organizational Stress
In early April 2020, the NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea reported they had 20% of their officer’s sick or quarantined due to COVID-19. Depleted manpower is stressful on any law enforcement agency. Along with the manpower shortage that COVID-19 has the potential to create shortages of medical supplies for law enforcement officers. Local mayors are reporting shortages in personal protective equipment (PPE) for first responders. Cochran (2020) surveyed 213 cities across 41 states and Puerto Rico and found that 91.5% of cities reported an inadequate supply of face mask for first responders. 88.2% reported they do not have PPE (other than face mask) for first responders (Cochran, 2020). Not having the needed PPE is causing stress on law enforcement administrations and management because they want their officers safe and protected during the COVID-19 emergency.
Keeping officer safe is everyone’s responsibility. Part of keeping and promoting a healthy workforce also includes creating opportunities for officers seeking help managing stress, and other mental health care issues to schedule appointments with mental healthcare professionals. Many officers do not use these resources because of the stigma associated with seeking mental heath care. Officers do not like to feel weak or vulnerable to their co-workers. One way to help change police culture for those seeking help is to create policies to protect officers from feeling ostracized for seeking help managing stress and mental healthcare concerns. The invisible enemy is not only the COVID-19 virus, but also creating an environment in which officers feel they cannot seek help because they fear for their career. Horesh and Brown (2020) warned that the current mental healthcare programs might not currently have enough resources available to help manage stress associated with COVID-19. It is the responsibility of the law enforcement organization to make these resources available and to actively encourage officers to use them when needed, with no strings attached.
Thank you to all the law enforcement agencies, officers, and their families during this difficult time.
Cochran, T. (2020). Shortages of COVID-19 emergency equipment in U.S. cities: A survey of the nation’s mayors. The United States Conference of Mayors. https://www.usmayors.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/0327-covid19_supply-report.pdf
Donnelly, E., Valentine, C., & Oehme, K. (2015). Law enforcement officers and employee assistance programs. Policing, 38(2), 206-220. http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy2.apus.edu/10.1108/PIJPSM-11-2014-0116
Fallen Officers From the COVID-19 Pandemic. (2020) The Officer Down Memorial Page, Inc. https://www.odmp.org/search/incident/covid-19
Greco, N. (2020). 10 tips for emergency responders, healthcare providers for managing stress during the COVID-19 crisis. International Public Safety Association. https://www.joinipsa.org/IPSA-Blog/8840318
Horesh, D., & Brown, A. D. (2020). Traumatic stress in the age of COVID-19: A call to close critical gaps and adapt to new realities. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 12(4), 331-335. http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy2.apus.edu/10.1037/tra0000592
Lai, J., Ma, S., Wang, Y., Cai, Z., Hu, J., Wei, N., Wu, J., Du, H., Chen, T., Li, R., Tan, H., Kang, L., Yao, L., Huang, M., Wang, H., Wang, G., Liu, Z., & Hu, S. (2020). Factors associated with mental health outcomes among health care workers exposed to Coronavirus disease 2019. JAMA Network Open, 3(3), e203976. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.3976
About the Author
Mark Bond worked in law enforcement and has been a firearms trainer for more than 30 years. His law enforcement experience includes the military, local, state, and federal levels as a police officer and criminal investigator. Mark obtained a BS and MS in Criminal Justice, and M.Ed in Educational Leadership with Summa Cum Laude Honors. Mark has a Doctor of Education (Ed.D) with a concentration in college teaching and learning. Mark is currently an associate professor of criminal justice at a university and adjunct professor of administration of justice studies at a community college.