Slightly fewer than 3,000 deputies are assigned to Patrol Operations and Countywide Services Division. Historically, making it out to patrol has been an exciting and highly anticipated experience for most sworn personnel. One of the reasons has to do with the length of time it has taken to make it out to patrol. Upon making it to patrol, the duties and expectations of the job seem infinite. Deputies are required to maintain the safety and security of the public as well as their own. It is a normal part of the job to engage in arduous physical activities such as running, bending, climbing walls, and getting in and out of vehicles to apprehend suspects.
Being on patrol requires mental preparation, psychological health, physical health, agility and high levels of performance. Deputies must be at their best virtually all the time. Unfortunately, the working conditions of patrol deputies make physical injuries highly likely at some juncture of their career. For example, the occurrences of traffic collisions can sometimes lead to chronic pain issues. According to Wolfe et al. (2015), between the years of 2000 and 2009, a total of 25,840 vehicle collisions occurred in California involving law enforcement. Of those, there were 39 officers killed by the collisions and 7,684 officers physically injured. Within the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, between 2014 and 2016, there was a minimum of 2,913 sworn traffic collisions. Of those, only about 61 to 62 percent wore a seat belt. The rate of wearing seat belts was substantially lower, 25 to 33 percent, for Code-3-involved traffic collisions. Physical injuries are very likely in traffic collisions, and can certainly lead to developing chronic pain issues in the future.
Chronic pain impacts everything in our life (e.g., mood, behavior, performance). The experience of physical pain can be exacerbated by stressors and depression. And sometimes, we become depressed because we are in pain. How exactly do people cope with pain issues? Some people try to pretend that the pain is nonexistent, but this doesn’t work well. Others use over-the-counter (OTC) medications (e.g., ibuprofen, Tylenol) and prescription pain medications to mask the pain. A common issue with OTC products is that they may not be strong enough, while prescription medication may have the opposite effect (Tennant, ND). As a way to remove the “edge,” alcohol is used as another way of attempting to cope with pain. Lots of issues arise with the use of alcohol, including becoming dependent on it or mixing it with medication(s).
What are some positive ways of addressing chronic pain issues? First, obtain a consultation from a medical provider who can diagnose the problem and make recommendations to treat the chronic pain issues. Second, together with your physician, come up with a strategy on dealing with the chronic pain and adhere to the treatment recommendations. Working through chronic pain issues can be challenging, but you need to stay on top of your treatment. Third, discuss with your physician the benefits of obtaining treatment at a specialty clinic, like a pain management program. Fourth, follow up regularly with your medical provider(s).
In addition to your follow-up care, there are some basic things that have been found to be helpful in dealing with chronic pain issues: (a) use deep breathing and meditation strategies to help your body relax when muscles become tense; (b) maintain a balanced diet; (c) get enough sleep; (d) reduce stress levels; and (e) consult with your doctor about the use of hot/cold compresses, taking hot/cold showers and the use of massage techniques. Also, keep a monthly calendar that tracks your pain levels daily, and note what makes the pain better or worse. You will want to share this information with your medical provider and pain management team.
If you can relate to any of these or similar situations, and think that a confidential consultation or a counseling appointment to address this issue might be helpful, please feel free to contact Psychological Services Bureau at (213) 738-3500.
Wolf, S.E., Rojek, J., Alpert, G., Tiesman, H., James, S. (2015). Characteristics of officer-involved vehicle collisions in California. Policing, 38(3): 458-477.
Tennant, F. (ND). Medications for Chronic Pain. Acetaminophen, NSAIDS, Opioids, and Other Medications. Practical Pain Management. www.practicalpainmanagement.com/patient/treatments/medications/medications-chronic-pain.