Burnout in Law Enforcement

Many law enforcement officers come to a point in their careers where they have that feeling that the flame has gone out. The spark of enthusiasm has disappeared. The job is not fun anymore. These are some of the indicators of Police Burnout.

Early in my career there was a funny saying B.O.S.S., which made light fun of Officer Burnout with a tongue in cheek cartoon of an officer doing the Superman pose with the B as a symbol on his chest. If I remember correctly, there was a club you could send away a gag application for membership too.

Unfortunately many LEO’s of the past suffered from the symptoms and the reality of burnout. It affected their performance on and off the job. Burnout was not a formally recognized symptom or hazard of public safety career.  Although we laughed about it, it destroyed many careers and people.

Burnout or compassion fatigue has… a major effect on many care-taking professionals. Untreated, burnout in law enforcement can be very harmful, and sometimes fatal.

Police Officers and other LEOs are described in our duties, and have been described legally in court cases, as “community caretakers”. So how do we as law enforcement professionals deal effectively with burnout? First let’s define the issue:

What are some of the signs of LEO burnout?
• Our work is not challenging
• I don’t care attitude and demeanor with the public and our peers
• We feel like we are in an emotional rut
• We start to lose our motivation. Boredom sets in.
• Things, our duties and our life become “Routine” (a dangerous place as a LEO)

Mix these symptoms in with professional and personal situations, we may have no control of, and frustration then sets in. Our disposition changes into a negative view of life and our job performance, relationships and our lifestyle suffer.

After 27 years of working in our honorable profession, I have personally bumped, hit and even crashed into this wall many times over my career. I am grateful for the “emotional helmet” that other LEOs and even others friends have taught me to wear.

When we recognize and acknowledge this situation we can take some action to change the course of our professional and personal lives for a better and healthier direction. If you, or someone you know, is suffering from burnout then consider asking these questions:

SELF REFLECTION: Why did I enter this career? Have I lost that sense of commitment to duty and honor? What do I need to do to bring back the enthusiasm to my career? These are moments we really need to ask ourselves, in quiet time and in our prayers, for the answers. The answers may come quickly or may take some time. Be aware and listen to your sense of intuition for guidance.

ARE YOU OVER COMMITTED?: With budget reductions are you carrying the duties of others? Is your life balanced between work and off duty time? Is your off duty time refreshing, rewarding and stimulating filled with family, friends and healthy activities?

CHANGE OF DUTIES: Are there opportunities to change your present work assignment or schedule? Can you bid to a more challenging work assignment that will work for you and your family life?

TRAINING: Are you preparing yourself for future career assignments or promotions? Are you willing to learn new skills to enhance and reinvigorate your present assignment? Are you willing to pay for extra training yourself, including on your own time? Are you willing to assess yourself and invest in yourself?

ARE YOU ADVOCATING FOR YOUR NEEDS?: Are you willing to advocate for your professional needs and your needs when you are off-duty? Are you willing to advocate for the needs of your family? Are you willing to “ASK”?

OFFER POSITIVE IDEAS: Are you willing to offer, and listen to, healthy and positive ideas to improve your agency work performance, make the job easier, and help keep morale in a positive mode? Are you willing to offer and listen to your family and your community to improve your own quality of life? Many of us have a fear of ridicule. Many of our solutions to professional and personal problems come from within. Listen to yourself and offer suggestions for improvement. The worst they can say is No. Ask while advocating, be willing to negotiate a solution, and be willing to accept the final answer. You will have no regrets of yourself for at least trying to make things better.

ARE YOU WILLING TO TALK?: Is a peer counselor, chaplain, E.A.P. or a mental health professional available for you to talk with confidentially about how you feel? Will you be willing to listen while they are guiding you with healthy suggestions to help you overcome your frustrations?

In our careers as police officers, sheriff’s deputies, corrections officers, parole officers, dispatchers and other law enforcement professionals, we all hit that wall at some point. It is up to you and I, as individuals to reflect, assess and make the changes needed to grow in life.

We are human beings performing a demanding and emotionally draining job. Whether we work in a big or small agency, it is up to us as individuals to develop a positive direction in our lives.

Think of it as repainting a room or rearranging the furniture. If we change the things we view every day this will help us change the way we view them.

Stay safe and be well!

CopsAlive is written to prompt discussions within our profession about the issues of law enforcement career survival. We invite you to share your opinions, ask questions and suggest topics for us in the Comment Box that is at the bottom of this article.

At The Law Enforcement Survival Institute (LESI) we train law enforcement officers to cope with stress and manage all the toxic effects and hidden dangers of a career in law enforcement.

Our “Armor Your Self™: How to Survive a Career in Law Enforcement” on-site training program is an eight hour, hands-on, “How to” seminar that helps police officers and other law enforcement professionals armor themselves physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually to survive their careers in police work. To learn more CLICK HERE

The concept of “True Blue Valor™” is where one law enforcement officer has to muster the courage to confront a peer who is slipping both professionally and personally and endangering themselves, their peers and the public. It takes a system of organizational support and professional leadership to support and foster the concept of courage and intervention. We will train your trainers to deliver this program to your agency.
To learn more CLICK HERE

Our “Armor Your Agency™: How to Create a Healthy and Supportive Law Enforcement Agency” Program includes critical strategies that you will need to build a system of support and encouragement for a healthy and productive agency. To learn more CLICK HERE

CLICK HERE to read more about The Law Enforcement Survival Institute.

CLICK HERE if you would like to contact us to learn more about training for your organization.

I’m John Marx, Founder of The Law Enforcement Survival Institute and the Editor of CopsAlive.com. Connect with me on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

CopsAlive.com was founded to provide information and strategies to help police officers successfully survive their careers. We help law enforcement officers and their agencies prepare for the risks that threaten their existence. Thank you for reading!

About Mark St. Hilaire

Sergeant Mark St.Hilaire has 25+ years as a police officer and is currently serving as a Patrol Sergeant in a suburb of Metrowest Boston, Massachusetts. Mark is continually training as a police peer assistant, and serves as a volunteer member of a regional C.I.S.M. team. He is committed to educating public safety professionals about the benefits of good health,developing our relationships and emotional wellness to improve our quality of life on and off duty.
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  1. Hello John,

    First I want to congratulate you and the fine work
    you are doing.
    I would like to share a point that I and many police
    officers suffer.
    As we grow older the horrors of the job grow as well
    and upon retirement we find ourselves with a lot
    of time on our hands, and we begin to think about
    I find my mind targeting the terrible things I encountered , such as the inhumanity and hideous
    events that police officers endure .
    While on the job these things were put aside in our
    minds, but now they can, for no good reason
    flash in our minds eye while haven a pleasant conversation with someone, it’s plain painful and
    if not put in check it will consume us.

    I wanted to share this for those who are nearing retirement, PREPARE YOURSELF and never ever
    let it control you..

    Sincerely, JOE

  2. Hi Jake,

    Thanks for your comment.

    Sergeant Mark St.Hilaire from Massachusetts has been writing some great stuff for CopsAlive.com. He has 25+ years as a police officer and really connects with our audience on some very important topics. Our thanks go out to Mark, you and all of our readers that make CopsAlive.com different from all the other police websites because of our focus on taking care of the well being of cops around the world.

    John Marx

  3. Howard "Jake" Jaquay

    When I look at each of the suggestions to combat burnout, I note that they all have a central theme – valuing yourself as an individual, gaining control of factors in your work, and accepting the value of what you do to yourself, your fellow officers, your family, and the community you serve.
    Well written article. Thanks again.

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