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As a volunteer civilian who goes into the jail as a crisis counselor for inmates, I often see officers under stress. The modern jail has become the holding tank for the mentally ill. Officers do use the gym, talk to each other, or the officer in charge for the day. An unofficial group exists of people who have been there, in a crisis, who understand the pressures. An officer under stress can ask for a buddy from the group who will be available to him or her as time and the job permits. The real truth though is that far too many feel that they cannot admit to the stresses of the long hours, the tension in every encounter, the need to prove everything to everyone's satisfaction when they have to make split second decisions. As society grows ever more demanding that the police do everything, the need to keep stress hidden grows stronger. I am not excusing police brutality, lawlessness or any other deviant behavior. I am simply saying that the job is ever more stressful with fewer options available to reduce that stress. Dealing with the mentally ill when they don't have enough training to always recognize or even assess what would be the best course of action is a perfect illustration of the stress of the job, and why the scrutiny of their actions which is necessary but a source of stress can make the job a thankless task. The public is rightly angry when officers do wrong, but they also need to recognize and thank those who do the job in the right way. Just being recognized by the public they work with is a great stress reducer.
There are a number of things that police officers, or anyone else, can do to try to relieve stress on their own. However, since police officers are exposed to much higher levels of stress than people in many other professions, there need to be more systematic and organized opportunities in place to help them deal with stress. In other words, there are things police officers can do on their own, but they also need to have programs available to them to help them reduce stress.
All people, in whatever profession, can engage in stress-reducing activities. They can engage in physically strenuous exercises. They can go to the gym or they can engage in things like martial arts. These are good for reducing stress and could also help police officers in their jobs. Police officers could engage in religious activities. They could write in journals. All of these are things that tend to help relieve stress.
But police officers are under much more stress than people in most other professions. Therefore, there need to be other opportunities for them. Perhaps the most important would be the presence of peers who are trained to support officers who are stressed and counselors who specialize in stress experienced by police officers. If police officers have these resources, they can have a better chance of reducing their stress levels in ways that will seem to be appropriate to their image of themselves as strong people.
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