There is a long history of research on the causes and consequences of stress among law enforcement officers. Research on stress has demonstrated that officers’ perceptions of organizational stressors (e.g., administrative burdens, perceptions of unfairness, organizational politics, and work hours) are more impactful than operational stressors (e.g., danger, exposure to violence, etc.). Moreover, organizational stressors have been linked to a variety of adverse outcomes including poor health, quality of life, and performance, as well as psychological distress and sleep problems.
For this study—being funded by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ)—NPF will employ a rigorous, multi-method approach to test the strength and directionality of relationships between variables in a comprehensive model. NPF’s broad data collection effort will include: 1) agency-supplied administrative data on officers, 2) an officer self-report instrument made up of a number of reliable measures that have demonstrated sufficient validity, and 3) physiological data (i.e., sleep quality, heart rate variability, and cortisol levels) from biometric devices for a subset of officers in both a police department and a sheriff’s office (including a jail). NPF is partnering with RTI International, an organization with significant expertise in biometrics, and has established a high-level scientific advisory board to provide input and guidance throughout the course project which will be led by Dr. John Violanti (University at Buffalo).
The study is designed to enhance officer health and wellness and promote organizational effectiveness through gaining a greater understanding of the pathways between organizational stressors, and a number of characteristics at the individual (e.g., mindfulness, personality, resilience, etc.) and organizational (organizational support, community support, bias, etc.) levels, and their connections to both negative and positive outcomes. NPF will also attempt to differentiate unique police and corrections officer stressors and identify individual and organizational stress mitigation strategies. The implications of this work may be substantial; by better explaining the pathways between job demands and stressors, individual and organizational influences, and both adverse and positive outcomes, law enforcement agencies and their personnel will be able to focus on ways to mitigate negative outcomes and promote positive ones. This is particularly important in today’s law enforcement organizations given the increased national scrutiny and concerns over officer behavior in the field, and the additional stress that may create for the majority of officers who work very hard to ensure public safety and security.