An employment expert advises on a case involving a police officer who alleged discrimination after he was terminated. The police officer was arrested for drunken driving and was fired. He sued the city for discrimination based on his medical condition, claiming accommodations have been made in cases involving officers who have been arrested for DUI or for other reasons. Accommodations have been made in cases of officers who have engaged in misconduct not amounting to a crime and in cases where the officer had a special need for it.
He hired an employment expert and sought the same reasonable accommodation that had been extended to other employees under similar circumstances.
Question(s) For Expert Witness
- 1. What types of stress and psychological difficulties do police officers face?
- 2. How common is alcohol and drug abuse among them?
Expert Witness Response
This employment expert has more than 30 years of experience dealing with psychological treatment and evaluation of law enforcement officers.
It is generally understood by both the law enforcement and the psychological communities that police and law enforcement work is particularly stressful. As is known, police officers are exposed to the risk of danger, even life-threatening danger, on a daily basis, deal with angry reactions and defensive comments from many in the public who interact with them in problematic ways, yet are also required to be sensitive to unique and traumatic events that affect others. Given these unique demands, police departments typically screen candidates for psychological sturdiness and the absence of psychopathology. I have performed such evaluations and have supervised those who perform such psychological assessments for various police and law enforcement agencies.
I have also provided treatment for the psychological, behavioral, and substance abuse problems that arise in the lives of many law enforcement officers. As is known, police officers have a particularly high rate of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, with about one out of six officers admitting to symptoms of PTSD, compared with approximately 7% in the general population of adults. Police officers have high rates of alcohol consumption, binge drinking, and the rates of death due to alcoholic liver disease for police officers are twice that of the general population.
Studies have shown that consistent objective test measures used for selection of officers and re-administered even two years later and four years later show significant changes over this comparatively short period of time in this select population of individuals prescreened for psychological sturdiness.
It is clear from the research that not only are these problems a risk for law enforcement officers, with the risk of these psychological and behavioral problems increasing over time, and this is known by police departments and law enforcement agencies, as well. These findings are found not only in psychological and psychiatric data, but also in journals whose readership is focused upon law enforcement. In response to this knowledge, many departments and agencies have adopted alternative and evidence-based responses to help law enforcement officers deal with stress in ways other than developing psychological symptoms or resorting to alcohol, illegal drugs, and non-medical use of prescription medicines. Health information to encourage adaptive forms of coping, encouragement of the use of other coping resources, as well as education for both the “ground troops” and supervisory levels have been implemented by some, but, sadly, not all law enforcement agencies.
It should be understood that these problems with drug and alcohol abuse and psychological difficulties may reach the point where they are disabling of individual performance, even leading to the determination of psychological disability for some police officers as a result of the stresses of the workplace.