Beyond Officer Survival What’s Your Plan? Part 1

I’ve often wondered how dangerous is our profession when compared to others?

When you compare ours to other professions, we as cops only just made it into the top 10 just recently.  On the List of Most Dangerous Jobs we only made it to number 10 in 2007 and that was only because we as law enforcement officers were lumped in with other protective service occupations and that was just in the United States.

In 2007 police officers finally made it to number 10 according to this article on most dangerous jobs.  “Badge-wielding types took a serious hit.  Of all occupations, protective-service occupations suffered the greatest relative increase in workplace fatalities in 2007, jumping 20% to 314. Nearly one-half of those were police officers…; indeed, enough men in blue perished in the line of fire to earn a spot on the list of America’s 10 most dangerous jobs.

“In 2007, 143 sheriffs and patrol officers died on the job–a rate of 21.4 per 100,000 workers–making police work the 10th most dangerous job in America. “Things have gotten more violent,” admits Rich Roberts, public information officer from the International Union of Police Association, a Sarasota, Fla.-based union, “but fortunately we’re better protected to a degree.”

Also check out: “Fewer Americans Killed on the Job” August 20, 2008 article

What’s the most dangerous?  Fishing, logging and flying, with fishermen, loggers and pilots having the most fatalities.

2007
Rank            Job            Rate per 100K employes                    Total number
1.    Fishermen etc.                 111.8                                                      38
2.    Logging Workers            86.4                                                       76
3.    Aircraft Pilots                  66.7                                                       82
5.    Farmers/Ranchers          38.4                                                     285
8.    Driver/Sales Workers    26.2                                                      908
10.    Police/Sheriffs               21.4                                                      143

Total Fatalities = 5,488        Ave Rate = 3.7

Cops ranked #10 with a rate of 21.4 per 100,000 but had the third highest total number of fatalities with 143 for 2007, but as Paul Harvey would say let’s look at “the rest of the story”.  Hundreds of police officers are dying unnecessarily each year in America.

On average 50-60 officers are murdered in the line of duty each year.

About twice that or 100-120 are killed in accidents, like automobile accidents, each year while performing their official duties.

Most frighteningly of all is that according to the National Police Suicide Foundation between 400-450 police officers take their own lives by suicide each year*.  That number is six to seven times the number that are murdered each year.

There is even evidence that suicides among correctional officers is even higher that law enforcement officers who work the street.  NJ.com reported that “New Jersey prison guards commit suicide at higher rates than police officers and the general population, a task force commissioned by Gov. Jon Corzine reported in January.”
“Officers say the pressure of dealing with incarcerated criminals in an often hostile environment leads to a greater risk of suicide.

“We’re in an incubator with nothing but germs and dangerous people,” said Kenneth Burkert, an officer at Union County Jail who lost a close friend to suicide last year.”

And if we are looking at the cumulative toxic effects that a career in law enforcement creates maybe we need to take into account what a lifetime of stress and negative experiences does to us.  You might want to include the side effects of the job that don’t actually kill you but make your life miserable like elevated rates of alcoholism, divorce, domestic violence and financial mismanagement.  Cancer rates for cops also seem to be higher than those of the general population.**

Quoting from a CALEA article on health and fitness in police officers and taking information from The FitForce™ Coordinator Guide by Collingwood et.al.:
“As an occupational group, LEOs have greater morbidity and mortality rates than the general public, principally due to cardiovascular disease, colon cancer, and suicide. Various law enforcement agencies have calculated the cost of an in-service heart attack to be between $400,000 and $750,000. Surveys suggest heart disease accounts for 20 – 50% of early retirements and back problems for 15 – 35%. In fact, younger officers, under the age of 35, have a lower risk of medical problems than the average American, but those 35 and over have a higher risk. One study of a major metropolitan police agency indicated that almost 50% of its officers had at least three of the five major risk factors for coronary heart disease – high cholesterol, smoking, obesity, inactivity, poor cardiovascular fitness, or high blood pressure.  Source: http://www.calea.org/Online/newsletter/No87/healthfitness.htm

And where is all of our initial and on-going law enforcement training directed?  To dealing with the bad guys by gun fight or hand to hand combat not to any of these hidden dangers.

I think as a profession we need to take a closer look at ALL the threats that will confront us in our careers and even in our personal lives as we spend years and years behind the badge.  I think a threat assessment is in order and until the research establishment starts looking at this issue in it’s totality then we need to do it as individuals.

We need to ask ourselves what is it that’s really killing us as cops and identify those hidden dangers and how they will effect us and create strategies to combat those negative effects.

One big question remains about whether this is a cumulative effect of stress or a long term cumulative form of PTSD or are we exposed to a long term series of negative mental and physical health effects that erode our professional and personal lives and health?  I have heard the term “cumulative stress or cumulative PTSD” and think that might be very descriptive of an overall enemy that we need to combat.

If you would like to research this subject further try these articles:
CLICK HERE for a study posted by Counseling Outfitters

CLICK HERE for a NIOSH study article on police stress.

Another from APA and NIOSH suggesting “the need for theory, training, and assistance paradigms that integrate the complexities of cumulative stress and traumatic events with a specific focus on high risk occupations that promote long term psychological health and well-being”  CLICK HERE for the PDF

An excellent research paper entitled: “Critical Incident Stress and the Police Officer A Pro-Active Approach” by Lieutenant Lori Beth Sanford from Allen Park Police Department, Allen Park, Michigan.  CLICK HERE to download the PDF.

I think that as a group of professionals we need to go beyond the limited research and speculation and start a little proactive Threat Assessment of our own and then maybe do a little Tactical Planning for our lives just like we would do at work if we were responding to a bank robbery in progress.

Let’s first examine some of the obvious Risk Factors like excessive or cumulative Stress, excessive Drinking, Poor Nutrition or Over Eating, Smoking, and maybe even our basic Personality Profile  (Young, Aggressive, Self-Confident, Honest, Self Motivated, that we can just describe as “Self Confident”)

With those things in mind how would we establish effective Protective Factors to deal with the hidden dangers of our profession?  Perhaps we would include:

A Comprehensive Wellness Program
Learning to Deal with Situational Stress
Learning Positive Life Balance Habits
Reducing our Police habit of Being Macho and Shrugging Off Stress
Reduce Easily Managed Personal Stress like relationships and the check book
Proper Physical Fitness Training
Proper Diet and Nutrition
Proper Amount of Sleep
and Proper Mechanisms to Support Each Other as an Organizational Team

Based upon some of the negative side effects visible in a policing career like suicide, alcoholism, divorce, domestic violence and financial troubles and PTSD, I believe that a proper Tactical Plan for a cops life would be divided into these 11 categories:

Plan Your Life
Plan Your Fun
Plan Your Health
Plan Your Relationships
Plan Your Career
Plan Your Finances
Plan Your Retirement
Plan Your Growth
Plan Your Legacy
Have a Back-Up Plan
Create a Secondary Income – Start a Business

The simple suggestion is to have a Tactical Plan for Your Life.  Over the next several weeks or months we will examine all of these categories and try to provide you with the ideas, suggestions and training mechanisms to empower yourself and your organization to repel the terrible fate that has befallen too many of our comrades.

*Reported by the National Police Suicide Foundation

** Reported by John Violenti in his research published in “Dying from the Job: The Mortality Risk for Police Officers” for the Law Enforcement Wellness Association

Resources:

The Badge of Life website: http://www.badgeoflife.com/

The National Police Suicide Foundation
: http://www.psf.org

Books on Stress, Cops & Mental Health:
http://www.lemha.org/id12.html

Police Wellness Association: http://www.cophealth.com

The Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA) article on health and wellness: http://www.calea.org/Online/newsletter/No87/healthfitness.htm

About Editor

John Marx was a Police Officer for twenty-three years and served as a Hostage Negotiator for nineteen of those years. He worked as a patrol officer, media liaison officer, crime prevention officer and burglary detective. Also during his career he served as administrator of his city's Community Oriented Governance initiative through the police department's Community Policing project. Today John combines his skills to consult with businesses about improving both their security and their customer service programs. John retired from law enforcement in 2002. When one of his friends, also a former police officer, committed suicide at age 38, John was devastated and began researching the problems that stress creates for police officers. He decided he needed to do something to help change those problems and he wanted to give something back to the profession that gave him so much. He started a project that has evolved into CopsAlive.com. Put simply, the mission of CopsAlive is to save the lives of those who save lives! CopsAlive.com gathers information, strategies and tools to help law enforcement professionals plan for happy, healthy and successful careers, relationships and lives.
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  1. Pingback: Police Suicide is an International Problem | Cops Alive | Police stress and health - career survival

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