The stressors law enforcement personnel are exposed to daily surpass the typical range of stressful events that most people experience in their lifetime. The circumstances LASD personnel handle can range from the mundane to the horrific. The latter could include motor vehicle crashes involving critical injuries, drug addicts, incidents of domestic violence, mental illness, adrenaline-filled pursuits, calls from panicked community members in fear for their lives, a deputy-involved shooting or other use of force, and the ultimate horror, the loss of a partner. The range of emotions, along with the coinciding physiological effects, can be intense.
As a result of one (or a number) of these stressors, emotions, including (but not limited to) irritability, depression, overwhelmingness, anger, worry, frustration, sadness and hopelessness, are common. The physiological effects experienced might include difficulty breathing, trouble sleeping, chest pains, heartburn, fatigue, rapid heart rate, getting sick or even a decreased interest in sex. Given all of this, I’m sure it’s not hard for you to imagine that such experiences create a perfect storm for the possibility of turning to avoidance to manage the impact of these stressors. Who in their right mind would want to go through all those things?
Emotions can be a dirty word in many departments, and the idea of facing them can be daunting. We are drilled on codes, procedures, policies and handling weapons and other equipment, but we are not taught how to handle the daily drudge and the intense and traumatic experiences we will inevitably experience while working in this field. The options for coping mechanisms come in all shape and sizes and can be healthy or unhealthy. The ones we choose over and over become our go-tos, our routines, our habits.
It is common in law enforcement culture to opt for denial, stuffing it down or avoiding it through the use of alcohol or drug use. Law enforcement has a history of pride with promotion, and a successful shift brings the desire to gather, share stories and spend time with people who understand you. Celebrating is not a bad thing, but what makes it negative is the culture that encourages excessive drinking. Alcohol is a depressant and will dull thoughts and feelings, while also causing some to feel even more invincible or simply block out all the emotions they cannot process. Many in law enforcement have even lost their careers while being intoxicated.
Let me be clear, knowing how to handle emotions in a healthy and productive manner is just as important to your career as healthy eating and being aware of your surroundings. As your Substance Abuse Resource Program coordinator, I continue to provide alcohol awareness training for deputy sheriff trainees, field training officers in FTO School and newly promoted sergeants in Sergeant Supervisory School. There have been briefings at various custody and patrol facilities that I have attended. If you need assistance with overuse or an addiction problem, or you have questions about the resources available, you can call Psychological Services Bureau (PSB) at (213) 738-3500. We have psychologists, trained peer supporters and chaplains ready to provide confidential help to assist you. If you are sworn, Peace Officer’s Fellowship (POF) is also available. You can contact one of the members listed here, and they will be more than happy to assist a fellow deputy.