Recent surveys suggest that confidence in police reached its lowest level on record in the wake of controversial police custody deaths and associated protests in recent years. Meanwhile, research has found links between perceptions of low public support for police and a variety of negative outcomes among police officers, including stress and withdrawal. The consequences of psychological stress, according to much other research, include a variety of physical health problems. The present study synthesizes these bodies of research by examining whether perceptions of low public support are associated with physical, somatic symptoms in police officers, including headaches, gastrointestinal problems, sleep disturbances, and upper respiratory infections. Structural equation modelling of 4,221 officer surveys from a Southeastern U.S. state collected in January of 2022 suggests that officers are quite literally worried sick about poor police–public relations, and that stress mediates this relationship. We discuss the implications of these findings for officer wellness and the relationship between mental and physical wellbeing among officers. Furthermore, we discuss practical recommendations for police leaders who may be struggling to promote officer wellness during a period of intense public scrutiny.
Published in Policing: A Journal of Policy and Practice