By Mark Bond, professor of criminal justice at American Military University
The recent protests that turned into lawlessness in Ferguson, Mo., were disturbing for the entire nation to witness. Law enforcement agencies across the country have been working with community organizers and protesters to keep demonstrations peaceful, but were unsuccessful in Ferguson.
A law enforcement officer serves and protects the community. They are on the front line, trying to keep the community safe and protect local businesses from having property destroyed by mobs with criminal intent.
When officers feel they are failing in that mission, they feel guilt. The pressure-cooker environment that law enforcement officers face during lawlessness and rioting can have long-lasting mental health consequences that can lead to depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
These situations are also escalated by the fact that officers work longer shifts during riots with little to no rest before returning to duty. Such fatigue can cause diminished strategic decision-making by officers. Officer stress levels become elevated and often the impact of such an event takes its toll long after peace is restored.
Tips to Reduce Stress Levels on the Front Lines
- Do not take the verbal comments made by protestors personally (Read more about Quit Taking It Personally (Q-TIP) theory to help reduce the adrenaline rush)
- Use your emotional intelligence and do not overact
- Take cleansing breaths and keep the blood flowing evenly by continuing to stretch and move
- Be patient with your fellow officers and supervisors
- When you get a break, take it
- Stay hydrated
- Eat a well-balanced meal before your shift
- Stay in contact with other officers, do not get separated
- Routinely check on your fellow officers on scene
- When off-duty, relax and give yourself time to shift gears. It is highly recommended that you do not watch news coverage of the event.
- Do not get baited into reacting to comments on social media sites
Things to Keep in Mind
Citizens have a right to voice their opinion and peacefully protest their government to bring about positive change. As an officer, you must understand this right, respect it, and protect it.
The public must understand that officers have a duty to keep the peace. When a planned peaceful demonstration turns into a lawless mob committing criminal acts, police must react quickly to protect lives and property.
As an officer, don’t be afraid to seek out mental health services after such a scenario. The price of law and order should not have to come at the cost of your own mental health.
About the Author: Mark Bond worked in law enforcement and has been a firearms trainer for more than 29 years. His law enforcement experience includes the military, local, state, and federal levels as a police officer and criminal investigator. Mark obtained a BS and MS in Criminal Justice, and M.Ed in Educational Leadership with Summa Cum Laude Honors. As a lifelong learner, he is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in education with a concentration in distance education. Mark is currently an assistant professor of criminal justice at American Military University & American Public University and is one of the faculty directors in the School of Public Service & Health. You can contact him at Mark.Bond@mycampus.apus.edu.