Rising Violence Threat Causes Stress for Police Officers

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The reality of life on the police beat is that the threat of violence often is just behind a door, the Wall Street Journal reports. With much focus on police officers who are killed, less noticed are the thousands more officers assaulted each year. Those numbers increased 2.5 percent last year to 50,212 from 48,988 in 2014, the Federal Bureau of Investigation says. Of those assaulted in 2015, there was a slight increase in the percentage of officers injured in the attacks. FBI statistics don’t show how many officers leave the profession, often driven away by stress and trauma, or officers who continue working with permanent physical or mental injuries.

Officers often don’t speak about their concerns, especially what stresses or scares them, said David Thomas of Florida Gulf Coast University, a forensic psychologist who counsels law-enforcement employees. When it is held inside, the stress can change how an officer interacts with the public, said Thomas, a retired officer and former hostage negotiator. That stress “has to come out someplace,” he said, “and when it does, it is nasty. It has to impact your judgment and the way you talk to people. It impacts everything you do.” Studies estimate that 15 percent of law-enforcement officers suffer from at least some symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, said University of Buffalo Prof. John Violanti, who did research with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health on the health effects of stress on officers. A deadly incident can generate symptoms even when an officer isn’t directly involved.

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