Case Western Reserve University collaboration helps police address job stress

Published: Wednesday, September 17, 2008 - 15:07 in Psychology & Sociology

Mangled bodies, gunfire, high-speed chases and injured children are just a few events witnessed by police officers and soldiers serving in dangerous hot spots around the world. The city of Cleveland's Division of Police has partnered with Case Western Reserve University, the Partnership for a Safer Cleveland and the U.S. Department of Defense to reduce on-the-job stress among police officers, who find themselves in the middle of these traumatic events.

Developed by this distinctive partnership, the innovative program trains police supervisors to identify and assist with operational stress.

These traumas take a high toll on police officers and soldiers, who suppress human emotions to get the job done and can be reluctant to share their experiences in an effort to spare others from their ordeals, according to a current Police Quarterly article, "Training Police Leadership to Recognize and Address Operational Stress," written by U.S. Army Lt. Col. (retired) Mark Chapin, Case Western Reserve University Professor of Social Work Mark Singer and Partnership for a Safer Cleveland Executive Director Michael Walker.

The article focuses on how this collaboration—one of the first in the United States between military combat stress experts and a local police force—has worked to reduce job stress.

"Police officers face job stress in the line of duty 24 hours a day. Even the toughest officer can eventually feel it. We want to change the operational climate of silence about problems and the stigma toward seeking help," said U.S. Army Lt. Col. (retired) Mark Chapin, one of the trainers.

Chapin, a graduate of the Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences at Case Western Reserve, currently serves as a clinical social worker at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. He has worked with hundreds of soldiers experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder after returning from battles in Vietnam, Panama, Grenada, Somalia and survivors of the 1983 suicide bombing of the Marine Corps barracks in Beirut, Lebanon.

The city's program, funded by a grant from the Cleveland Foundation, has trained more than 80 commanders and supervisors who oversee the Cleveland Police Department's nearly 1,600 officers.

These leaders have trained and honored officers who have participated in the program with medals shaped like a dog tag in recognition of coming to the aid of their colleagues or seeking assistance when job stress surfaces.

The bronze medals, engraved with "One for All" and "Strengthening the Chain," reinforce the tenets of the training and the solidarity among officers to address stress. These awards were adapted from the U.S. Military Commander Coin program that acknowledges military personnel who go above and beyond the call of duty.

"Police work is highly stressful and one of the few occupations where an individual continually faces the inherent danger of physical violence and the potential of sudden death," said Mark Singer, professor of social work at the Mandel School.

Singer helped design the program. He has spent 15 years working with police, riding along with them regularly as they patrol Cleveland's neighborhoods.

In addition to the dog tags, supervisors and patrol officers have tri-fold laminated cards providing the warning signs of operational stress. The commanders' and supervisors' cards outline symptoms of stress. The line officers' cards list physical and emotional symptoms of stress, provide information about recovery from operational fatigue and suggest ways of protecting both the officers and their partners.

"The early identification of operational stress increases the likelihood of positive outcomes in police-citizen interactions," said Michael Walker, executive director of the Partnership for a Safer Cleveland, who helped design and implement the training program.

In past years, Walker and Singer have teamed up to provide on-the-job training for local police in a variety of areas.

The latest initiative, begun in 2005, evolved from their work with youth and law enforcement officials. They hope this and future programs will promote health and support among police officers as they carry out their service to Cleveland communities.

Source: Case Western Reserve University


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