Managing Law Enforcement Stress Levels During Civil Unrest

The recent national protests from the upcoming U.S. Supreme Court decision on Roe v. Wade has the potential to make this a long hot summer of civil unrest. Law enforcement agencies across the country have been working with community organizers and protesters to keep demonstrations peaceful.

There are strong feelings on both sides of the abortion issue. Peaceful protest is protected under our Constitution; however, large crowds have the potential to turn violent, especially when people feel strongly on the issues and the protestors and counter-protest clash at demonstrations. Being the peacekeepers during passionate and emotional protest can be a personal challenge. Protestors at times have focused their anger and frustration on officers in uniform as they are recognized symbols and representatives of government. The crowd mentality can be dangerous in large gatherings when protestors are passionate about wanting their voices heard. Just stay professional and remember that everyone has a camera and recording these days.

Managing protest takes planning and training. Officers work longer shifts during civil unrest with little to no rest before returning to duty. Such fatigue can cause diminished strategic decision-making by officers. Officer stress levels become elevated and often the impact of such an event takes its toll long after peace is restored. Critical incident debriefings allow for improved responses to keep the peace.  

Tips to Reduce Stress Levels on the Front Lines

  • Peacekeepers are neutral, no matter your personal beliefs.
  • Do not take the verbal comments made by protestors personally
  • Use your emotional intelligence and do not overact
  • Take cleansing breaths and keep the blood flowing evenly by continuing to stretch and move. Stay alert and project professionalism  
  • Be patient with your fellow officers and supervisors
  • When you get a break, take it
  • Stay hydrated
  • Eat a well-balanced meal before your shift
  • Stay in contact with other officers, do not get separated
  • Routinely check on your fellow officers on scene
  • When off-duty, relax and give yourself time to shift gears. It is highly recommended that you do not watch news coverage of the event.
  • Do not get baited into reacting to comments on social media sites

Things to Keep in Mind

Citizens have a right to voice their opinion and peacefully protest their government to bring about positive change. As an officer, you must understand this right, respect it, and protect it.

The public must understand that officers have a duty to keep the peace. When a planned peaceful demonstration turns into a lawless mob committing criminal acts, police must react quickly to protect lives and property.

As an officer, do not be afraid to seek out professional mental health services after such a scenario. The price of law and order should not have to come at the cost of your own mental health.

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 AMU.