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
At the direction of the N.C. Criminal Justice Education and Training Standards Commission and the N.C. Sheriffs’ Education and Training Standards Commission, and in a joint effort with partners at the North Carolina Justice Academy, researchers from Appalachian State University conducted a study aimed at understanding what benefit, if any, there would be to requiring ongoing, in-career fitness standards for North Carolina police and detention officers. In addition, we sought to understand the hurdles and concerns associated with requiring or implementing ongoing fitness standards. This report responds to these questions in three parts. First, we report findings about the mental and physical health of officers in North Carolina, as well as the relationship between the availability of officer fitness and the availability of fitness support and programming. Second, we assess police leader concerns about the implementation and obstacles related to ongoing fitness standards. Finally, using secondary data from a different Southeastern state, we assess the relationship between ongoing fitness standards and officer attrition.
- Study 1 reveals that, overall, officers in North Carolina are in poor physical and mental health, and in many ways are in even poorer health than the general public. Furthermore, officer health affects several aspects of job performance. Mandatory in-service physical fitness evaluations are associated with improved officer health and more frequent exercise, even in the absence of formal consequences like termination.
- Study 2 reveals that physical fitness standards for incumbent officers are uncommon, and the biggest concern identified by agency leaders was staffing.
- Study 3 reveals that neither mandatory nor voluntary physical fitness programs are associated with significantly more attrition.
Our report culminates in four recommendations:
- Require physical fitness testing throughout the career of a law enforcement officer.
- Do not incrementally adjust in-service physical fitness standards based on age.
- Promote physical activity among officers irrespective of in-service physical fitness standards through in-agency fitness centers and on-duty exercise.
- Implement holistic employee wellness programs in law enforcement agencies.