Say the word “deputy” and notice what comes to mind. One of the most familiar images is someone strong, standing between innocence and danger. We in law enforcement face so many risks and are exposed to so many incidents, from the mundane to the horrific. In one shift, a deputy can witness a motor vehicle crash, domestic violence, a plane crash, drug addiction and death. In years past, deputies held an esteemed position in society, but in today’s climate, it seems that more and more people are mistakenly singling police out as part of the problem, instead of as part of the solution. So how does an officer deal with this stress?
The physical effects of stress, along with the emotions that come with it, create a perfect storm if that deputy doesn’t have a healthy way to de-stress. In these cases, the end result is too often alcoholism, drug abuse and/or divorce.
Watch any television show portraying the life of a law enforcement officer and you are guaranteed to see a strong yet broken hero who deals with the pressure of work with a double on the rocks at the close of the show. Inevitably, the scene is set at a neighborhood bar where everyone from the shift is passing pitchers around in celebration. Law enforcement has a culture of brotherhood and family, which is so valuable. Enduring and succeeding in training, being promoted and talking to someone who truly understands the trials of your day to day are legit reasons to gather with fellow deputies. What should not become the norm is having every meeting clouded by alcohol. I’ve heard that as many as 25% of law enforcement officers in the United States have issues with alcohol, though stats vary due to many reasons, including the lack of reporting. Many officers don’t come forward due to fear of repercussions.
Drinking regularly or in large quantities can also negatively impact family life. As mentioned above, divorce is prevalent among the law enforcement community. Long or odd hours, rotating shifts, dangerous environments and unmet expectations can certainly derail a marriage. This means that the very part of a deputy’s life that should be the most stable, family life, is potentially a volatile area.
Many officers don’t learn strategies to help them deal with job stress and maintain functioning personal lives. Knowing how to handle emotions, however, is just as important to officers’ long-term success as healthy eating and being aware of their surroundings. So what can we do? Emotional well-being isn’t a term often used in law enforcement, but it needs to start being used as frequently as radio codes, continued education and weapons training. Law enforcement must find a healthy way to deal with everyday stress. Resources do exist.
At the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, we have the Psychological Services Bureau (PSB). How can a PSB psychologist help you? All psychological staff are licensed and trained to assist people in solving their problems. A police psychologist is specifically trained to assist those in law enforcement with issues very unique to the profession. They are aware of the cultural differences that make law enforcement very distinct. PSB’s Substance Abuse Resource Program is an excellent place to start. This will be one of your best calls to preserve your chances of future success: (213) 738-3500. You can also contact the Peace Officer’s Fellowship (POF) from the list above. Or, if you prefer, there are numerous Peer Support members throughout the Department, and chaplains are also available. Whichever lane you choose to take, it’s confidential. There is no better time than now!