By Saul Roth
Many police officers maintain their workplace attitudes when home with the family. At work an officer has to exert an authoritarian stance, a behavior that does not always sit well at home. Police officers might begin to treat their families like the criminals. Those officers that work in high crime locations have a larger chance of treating their family members in such a way. Prolonged exposure to violence and department stress sometimes leads to an officer actually becoming domestically violent or abusive to his or her children. Once convicted of domestic violence, a person is no longer allowed to possess a handgun under federal law. Thus, a police officer arrested for domestic violence will usually face suspension and possibly other disciplinary actions (Zavala, 2013).
Police officers who are suffering marital discord have a 4.8 percent chance of attempting suicide. If in addition to the marital difficulty itself, the officer arrested of domestic violence may be disciplined with a police department suspension. These officers have a 6.7 percent chance of committing suicide. As previously discussed, physicians have the highest rate of suicide in the United States. A 1970 Nelson and Smith study (as cited in Janick & Howard, 1994) found that police officers in Wyoming in fact had the highest rate of suicide, which was twice the rate of physicians. Additionally, it has been shown demonstrated that the police suicide rate was only slightly less than that of physicians. Police officers’ lives are affected outside of the work place more than many other professions, and this is especially true for detectives and upper management (Janick & Howard, 1994).
Police burnout usually occurs midway through a police officers’ career. This usually also causes family discourse, as the changing shifts create major disruption and cause much friction between spouses. This also leads to difficulty in raising children and different opinions between the spouses in child rearing decisions. About one third of police officers at any given time will experience marital difficulty (Janick & Howard, 1994).
Janick and Howard (1994) suggest in their study that police officers upset with management used it as protective shield against stress from the work-family conflict. Using the department as a scapegoat and complaining actually relieved their stress. Even though marriage can be a burden when there is discord and department discipline, studies show that officers in stable family situations do better than single police officers (Janick & Howard, 1994).
VIII. Alcohol Abuse
As a police officer for thirty-two years I have responded to numerous domestic incidents. Many of these incidents have one or both partners intoxicated by alcohol. Most of the time it is the male partner. As a police supervisor I have been requested to respond to domestic incidents involving a police officer. On some of these occasions, the officer was intoxicated. Alcohol is a dangerous substance when it is abused. This especially the case in a police officer’s home where there is a firearm is present.
There are conflicting views on alcohol consumption as a problem among police officers. An initial screening by Richmond et al. (1999) in Australia showed that 48 percent of male police officers and 40 percent of female police officers were drinking excessive amounts of alcohol. Police officers also have a higher rate than the general public of liver disease. They also have a higher rate than the general public of lung disease from smoking. They are more prone to cigarette smoking because of the stresses they confront on patrol daily. Female officers have a higher rate of cigarette use. This may lend evidence that they are more prone to police department stress. The 40 percent of female police officers that drink excessively might also be swayed to do so by the male-dominated culture of the police department. The female officer might consume alcohol to excess to fit in with her peers the same as a new male police officer (Richmond et al., 1999).