Kurtz also found that family support tended to mitigate the effects of stress and burnout to a greater degree than administrative support. Family support was significantly associated with reduced burnout for both men and women, which is perhaps intuitive.
The bureaucratic nature of law enforcement agencies may limit the ability of single administrators to reduce stress among field officers. Kurtz says officers frequently believe that their patrol decisions lack support by departmental administration, which is compounded by the fact that many officers believe the public does not support their efforts.
"Perhaps the bureaucratic nature of the workplace makes it hard for administrators to mediate stress, regardless of gender," he suggests. On the other hand, administrative support may relate to burnout and help retain female officers in a hostile environment, thereby reducing burnout. Kurtz says nationally, police agencies have had limited support in increasing the number of women in the field, and even when departments are able to recruit women, they often have difficulty retaining them. Studies have shown that female police officers are more apt than males to report that the command structure treats them differently based on gender.
"Although the current study cannot document the extent, it is logical to assume that when agencies refuse to tolerate sexist behavior in the workplace, women perceive this behavior as support from their administration, thereby reducing burnout for women," Kurtz says.
He adds that perhaps the most interesting contribution of his findings is the importance of gender dynamics in law enforcement work environments, underscoring the need for including gender influences in the analysis of police stress and burnout.
"It is not surprising that male officers were most apt to believe that women were treated more leniently," Kurtz notes. The perception that women are physically too weak to fulfill the sometimes physical demands of law enforcement is a recurring theme. Prior research shows that, for the most part, male officers viewed female officers as a liability, believing they lack the physical size to contain violent offenders and create safety concerns in patrol situations.
"It is perhaps also not surprising that male officers who endorse this view are more likely to experience stress and burnout if they think they are being treated unfairly or that women are somehow getting by without living up to departmental expectations," Kurtz adds.There is a solution
Researchers admit that publishing papers and conducting stress studies will not influence police departments to change overnight, but it is one way to get the word out so the negative effects of stress must be acknowledged, de-stigmatized and treated.
"Intervention is necessary to help officers deal with this difficult occupation," Violanti advises. "We want to educate on how to survive 25 years of law enforcement."
Violanti says police need to learn how to relax and think differently about things they experience on the street. Remedies are particularly difficult given the strength of the police subculture. Law enforcement remains a profession dominated by men, and many of the stress management practices still relate to gendered expectations of behavior, particularly the idea of how men handle stressful situations.
"Many officers fear being labeled weak or unreliable if they show any emotional response to stress," Kurtz notes. "This was clearly evident for men who are expected to behave in a masculine manner [and] sets up unrealistic expectations for officers."
Kurtz says finding ways for officers to openly discuss stress without stigma may resolve some of these negative outcomes. However, these sessions should not be seen as psychological counseling because they would then involve significant stigma. "Group interaction other than binge drinking sessions or other traditional after-work activities might be productive," he suggests.
And there is such a thing as post-traumatic growth.
Violanti says:"People can grow in a positive way and be better cops — and people — after they survive the trauma of police work."