For everyone, the outbreak of COVID-19 has the potential to increase stress because of the fear of catching (or transmitting) the virus and because of uncertainty about how it will affect us socially and financially. We, as law enforcement, are not immune to this stress and, in reality, may actually be experiencing even more of it. While others are sheltering at home, we, as “essential workers,” continue to maintain public safety, risk exposure through ongoing interactions with the community, and have real concerns of exposing our family members to the virus. Some personnel are also experiencing increased high-stress encounters with individuals suffering from mental health problems aggravated by fear of contagion, economic uncertainty, resource shortages and isolation. Changes and alterations in protocols such as being required to wear personal protective equipment, having to alter patrolling routines and having schedules shifted add to workplace stress. With all of this, we may find that we are reacting more strongly to the pandemic than the general population.
The law enforcement community understands this, and its reaction to COVID-19 thus far has been seen in different areas. For example, efforts were made to keep employees safe by procuring personal protective equipment and encouraging employees to social distance. Some employees were shifted to telecommuting to decrease the number of employees in enclosed spaces. When briefing rooms were unable to accommodate the need to socially distance, briefings were being held outside. Discretion when dealing with the public is being used to avoid physical proximity in situations where a response or arrest will occur.
We also know that COVID-19 will have long-lasting impacts. As a result, it is likely that police departments will modify some policing protocols as needs change. For example, as people start getting out in public more, police departments will likely work to reestablish community relationships and to develop strategies to deal with economically impacted individuals, including the possibility of an increased homeless population.
There are so many aspects of the pandemic that can cause stress. And while the Department and the law enforcement community does what it can to offer support, it is impossible to eliminate the stress completely. It is, therefore, important that we develop and use healthy strategies for managing it. Alcohol and prescription medications are not one of them. If you find yourself turning to alcohol more or misusing prescription medication, please reach out to get some support before it starts causing problems. Call me at Psychological Services Bureau (213) 738-3500 and ask for the Substance Abuse Resource Program. Information and free, confidential services are available to you and/or your significant other.
If you are sworn, Peace Officer’s Fellowship (POF) is also available. You can contact one of the members above, and they will be more than happy to assist a fellow deputy. If you are non-sworn, feel free to contact me for AA meeting resources.