Al was once a committed, easy-going deputy's deputy. The 15-year law enforcement veteran always showed up for roll call 10 to 15 minutes early, worked overtime as needed, and accepted rotating shifts and assignments to any department division without complaint.
Most officers on the force wanted to work with Al. He could be counted on as backup, and would stick around at a scene while others investigated or did booking procedures. The physically fit officer was always the first through the door, be it a bar fight or a search warrant. He would write the big, complicated and boring reports. Citizens liked him too, often writing letters commending his performance.
But Al changed in the spring of 1982. His sergeant was the first to notice. He began arriving late, and his uniform, once all spit and polish, was in a disheveled state. His hair grew shaggy and unkempt, and his once excellent physical condition deteriorated. He developed a puffy look from drinking too much.
The biggest change, however, was in Al's attitude. His temper, cocked on a hair trigger, could go off at the slightest provocation. He was always snapping at others or making snide remarks during briefings. Citizens began to notice. Al had worked 15 years without a complaint, but in a single month he had four.
As the above example illustrates, those likely to experience burnout are often those officers who were initially most committed. An officer cannot burnout if he or she has never been on fire.
The road to burnout is a long and lonely stretch. As illustrated above, it does not happen overnight. It is not a condition caused by one or two incidents, nor is it unique to certain personality types. It is a road traveled at one time or another by most law enforcement professionals, often midway through their career. That's the bad news. The good news is that it's possible to avoid burnout with proper maintenance, and if it does cause delays, repairs are cheap.What causes burnout?
The hectic life of the law enforcement professional causes burnout. The constant demands and the immense stress associated with cop work all contribute. Over time, these stressors eat up resources.
Consider the following example: An officer responds to a domestic disturbance within a large apartment complex. Upon her arrival, several children demand to see her patrol vehicle. A tenant wants to report a theft while another reports illegal drug use. When the officer finally arrives at the apartment, the male half of the domestic relates nothing is wrong. The female half wants her husband arrested for sleeping. Fortunately, no crime was committed, just a lot of bickering and marital discord. The officer, after calming the situation, departs the apartment, and again encounters a tenant. This tenant, obviously anti-establishment, calls the officer several names. A child runs to the officer stating she is lost. After locating the lost child's apartment and explaining child neglect to a worried mother, the officer finally gets to her patrol vehicle, ready to clear. To her dismay, she discovers she has locked her keys in the vehicle. Notifying dispatch of her predicament, she waits for the sergeant who has the master key. She knows she will be laughed at during the next roll call.
This officer continues her shift, answering similar multi-tasked calls, and for the next 15 years, she does this nearly every day. Finally the day-to-day demands, hectic situations and an uncooperative public trap her in a mysterious routine. Hopelessness sets in and finally, she runs out of gas, emotionally drained. This officer has traversed burnout road.
Job burnout is a physical and mental state caused by severe strain placed on the body until all resources are consumed. The symptoms of burnout develop gradually, and differ from person to person. But all sufferers have one symptom in common: fatigue. Burnt-out officers may not notice any problems and may consider their feelings normal. Often they cannot remember not feeling stressed, fatigued and physically tired all the time.