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The effects of stress management interventions among police officers and recruits
- Authors: George Patterson, Irene Chung, Philip G Swan
- Published date: 2012-04-18
- Coordinating group(s): Crime and Justice
- Type of document: Review
- See the full review: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.4073/csr.2012.7
Law enforcement organizations began to take notice of officer stress during the late 1970s. Stress has been found to not only affect the officers’ job performance, but their personal lives and relationships as well. Because police officers are first responders to potentially stressful situations, their ability to successfully manage stress is critical not only to their own mental health but to the safety of society as a whole. Research has found that police officers who have difficulties coping with stress exhibit maladaptive behavior and personality traits such as aloofness, authoritarianism, cynicism, depersonalization, emotional detachment, suspiciousness, and excessive use of alcohol.
High levels of stress can lead to serious physiological (headaches, stomachaches, backaches, ulcers, heart attacks) and psychological (anxiety, depression, flashbacks, and panic attacks) symptoms. Stress among police officers has also been connected to police misconduct and can also have a negative effect on the law enforcement organization due to lawsuits resulting from officers’ performance. Other organizational effects include impaired officer performance, lower productivity, poor morale, poor public relations, labor-management problems, tardiness and missed work, and officer turnover. Law enforcement organizations provide a wide variety of stress management interventions aimed at ameliorating officer stress.
The objectives of this systematic review were to identify, retrieve, evaluate and synthesize the available evidence regarding outcomes of stress management interventions provided to veteran police officers and recruits. The review question is: What are the effects of officer stress management interventions on stress outcomes?
A variety of search methods were used to identify studies. These methods included: (1) searching electronic databases; (2) handsearching relevant journals, books, and conference proceedings; (3) searching Internet websites; (4) visually scanning reference lists from relevant studies; (5) contacting organizations and authors who have knowledge of police stress management and development program evaluations; and (6) citation searching
The criteria for inclusion of retrieved studies focused on population characteristics and sampling strategies, interventions, study methods and designs, data analysis and outcome results. Included studies required a population consisting of veteran police officers, police recruits, and/or civilian (non-sworn) police personnel; a randomized controlled trial (RCT), random assignment to conditions, or quasi-experimental designs that included a control group; a psychosocial or other type of stress management intervention; quantitative outcomes although studies that utilized qualitative methods (focus groups, interviews) were included as long as these studies focus on the interventions examined in the RCT studies; and published and non-published studies conducted in any geographic location.
Data collection and analysis
The meta-analysis was performed using the computer software program Comprehensive Meta-Analysis Version 2.2.050 (Borenstein et al. 2009a). For studies reporting multiple outcomes and time points these were not treated as independent. Effect sizes were separated out by outcome type (psychological, behavioral and physiological) and analyzed separately for different outcomes types. Among studies that contained multiple outcomes, the outcomes were averaged. Effect sizes were not averaged across different outcome types. Most often effect sizes were calculated using reported means, standard deviations and sample sizes, although some effect sizes were calculated using reported Cohen’s d and t-test results.
The results of the present review indicate that stress management interventions had no significant effect on psychological, behavioral or physiological outcomes. Whereas stress can contribute to negative psychological, behavioral and physiological outcomes the 12 primary studies examined psychological stress outcomes. Only three studies examined behavioral outcomes, and two examined physiological outcomes. Near null effects were found for psychological, behavioral, and physiological outcomes. Moderator analyses, although difficult and exploratory with so few studies, also failed to find any meaningful differences across the studies. These results do not provide evidence to support the efficacy of stress management interventions for police officers or recruits. Given the weakness of the research designs, we can neither claim that these programs are effective or ineffective.
More rigorous studies are needed that evaluate the efficacy of stress management interventions among police officers and recruits. Several recommendations are proposed for future research. First, police organizations should conduct evaluation research of their current stress management interventions that includes random assignment. Second, stress management interventions for police officers and recruits should focus on specific types of stress (i.e., organizational or personal). The type of stress that is the focus of the intervention should be described in studies. Finally, more qualitative data are needed to contextualize participants’ experiences with the intervention.