By Saul Roth
Prior to committing suicide, people are usually depressed. Violanti (2008) found in his study of a mid-size police department that those officers experiencing depression had a higher rate of suicidal ideation. Moreover, females experienced a higher depression rate than male officers. A study of police in Taiwan by Chen and Boyle (2006) revealed that four percent of the officers studied suffered from depression, while the rate in the Taiwanese public was one percent. This study found that depression rates were lower with higher education levels. It should be noted, though, that those with higher education were most likely to be found in the investigative and higher ranks of the police department, positions that incur more stress from the organization structure. In addition, older officers were shown to have less depression. The study does not define what “old” means, however. Most police officers retire after 20 to 30 years in the police department. Chen and Boyle (2006) demonstrated that 69 percent of officers related depression to work. Other reasons for depression were related to family difficulties. Though not directly related to the police profession, such family difficulties still could be indirectly related to their police position.
Hasan and Wieko (2007) identified the four basic stresses for police officers to be police work, the public, the criminal justice system, and police organization. I agree that this does relate to the basics of police stress and, in fact, each basic element of stress can be expanded. Police work can be broken down by the stress of the specific assignments. The criminal justice system is broken down into the stresses of the district attorney’s office, the courts, and the jail system. The public is composed of all the different groups of minorities, political groups, and the people that police confront on a daily basis. Finally, the police organization embodies the assignments, paperwork, rules and regulations, and police supervision. Additionally, I believe that there should be a fifth basic: the family. The family stress as it relates to the police officer’s work does not fall into the other categories of police stress. While Hasan and Wieko (2007) show that some dangerous aspects of police work do not add to police stress, I disagree with this logic.
Anderson (2002) actually monitors the officers’ heart rates and nervous systems from the beginning to the end of their shift. The study shows increased heart rate and cortisol levels throughout an officer’s shift. This study consists of physical evidence. By contrast, this is not a study in which police officers are asked how they feel at a particular moment. This is physiological evidence that police officers experience high levels of stress throughout their shift.
Additionally, Anderson (2002) described two types of stress commonly experienced by police officers. First, there is acute stress, or stress that typically occurs within the moments of the stressor. In contrast, chronic stress occurs over a period of time. Chronic stress can come from many instances of acute stress or from other stressors, such as a poor police administrative structure. Prior to my retiring from the Nassau County Police Department, I saw many instances of administrative procedures that caused the entire department to suffer from chronic stress. To save money, the department kept merging units and eventually precincts. Many police officers’ job functions were in constant flux and the department underwent a pay freeze. New police officers were suffering at a very low pay rate, which also contributed to family friction. Chronic stress is the most dangerous stress, as it relates to suicide ideation. Chronic stress also leads to health problems, which can also lead to suicide ideation (Anderson, 2002).