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Law Enforcement - Stress Issues

Panel Discussion

Maureen Lennon, MACo Attorney & Chaplain Fr. Terry Tyler, Cascade County Sheriff/Coroner’s Office

Highlights of Discussion

In law enforcement, as well as related emergency services and corrections, all too often officers have never seriously talked about stresses of the Job before, or consider it a problem only of the “weak.”

The main thing to remember today is: law enforcement/emergency services Job-Related Stress is no longer something that can be ignored or belittled.  There are too many excessive costs involved; i.e., potential long-term suffering, unnecessary employee turnover, loss of costly investment in good people, and if nothing else, the potential of high-priced lawsuits.  The point is today, NO ONE can escape responsibility by saying they were unaware of Stress Issues or the now easily Available Resources.  With recent court actions and decisions, local and county governments are responsible to make a reasonable, good faith effort at addressing inherent stress of the Job.

Traumatizing/Critical Stress, experts say, comes in two (2) stages:

1.    The First is the “acute stress” stage, which occurs within days of the critical incident.  The stress at this point can be intense, but near always within the normal range of human reaction (mentally, physically, spiritually) to the abnormal critical incident.  Most persons in general within two to three weeks of the critical incident will get past their normal reactions to abnormal circumstances: i.e., sleeplessness, anxiety, feelings of distress, re-occurring images & dreams, etc. 

2.    The Second is “Post Traumatic Stress,” and can include “accumulative stress.”  National research indicates only 1 to 2% of people will develop full-blown Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Dispel the backward thinking.  What may not be stressful to some, may be serious stress to others.  Each person is an individual, with their own experiences, their own make-up, their own individual being, and often times carrying their own burdens and even previous baggage that only adds to the critical stress experience.

Recommendations/Strategies for Avoiding Liability

1.     Experienced Experts agree: the most fundamental component of stress prevention is Stress Prevention Training, and repeated training.

2.     The most fundamental component of  Stress Prevention Training is Awareness Training – training officers how to recognize the sources and signs; how to develop individual strategies for preparing for, coping and maintaining everyone’s awareness of accessible resources; and then, using them.  Training in Stress Awareness can lessen the impact and anxiety about the unknown, decrease an officer’s sense of isolation and helplessness in regard to his/her stress-related difficulties, and increase their motivation to take the steps when necessary to combat stress symptoms.  Most professional administrators and practitioners in the field of Critical Incident Stress Management say that the Academy is the best place to start to train officers about stress because recruits are a captive, learning audience.  But it only starts at the Academy.   They also emphasize providing regular intervals of mandatory in-service training – and not only for the rank and file, but for ALL personnel – from top to bottom of the organization.  Accountable in-service training from top to bottom lends to reducing the stigma and ignorance too often associated with obtaining assistance for stress-related issues.  Training…Training…Training.

3.     Other key elements include maintaining good supervisory training and skills of supervisors.

4.  Just like being required to maintain posters and notices about Fair Labor Practices and other Safety Prevention issues, numerous organizations provide many Job related stress signs and posters.  Get them and post them.

5.  Utilize available, trained Montana CISM Network Teams.  Montana has at least 14 fully  equipped and ready volunteer teams of mental health and peer  professionals for response to any critical/serious incident.  They will respond for FREE, or at most just reimbursement for travel.  Most of them are prepared and willing to even provide pre-incident stress training for little or nothing of cost.

6.     Develop a CISM of your own by calling the Montana CISM Network for assistance & training.

7.     Call upon your Employee Assistance Program if you have one for stress training sessions, consultations, and one-on-one counseling.  Check to see if your insurance carrier has anything to offer for assistance.

8.     Look into developing a full-time professional, part-time, or volunteer Chaplain Program, with help and guidance from the professionals in the field.

IMPORTANT NOTE: None of these Recommendations are stand-alone strategies; Actively Utilize Them ALL where you reasonably and morally can.

Resource List:  (CONTACT THEM!  USE THEM!)

Developing a Law Enforcement Stress Program for Officers & Their Families, 1997, available from:

U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Justice Programs
National Institute of Justice
Washington, DC  20531

Addressing Correctional Officer Stress: Programs & Strategies, 2000, available from:  (same as above).

Montana Critical Incident Stress Management Network:

c/o Montana Disaster & Emergency Services
P.O. Box 4789
Helena, MT  59604
406-841-3911 (24-hr)

International Critical Incident Stress Foundation: 

10176 Baltimore National Pike, Unit 201
Ellicott City, MD  21042

International Conference of Police Chaplains:  


National Sheriffs’ Association Chaplaincy Section: 


American Correctional Chaplains Association


John L. Strandell, Sheriff/Coroner:   406-454-6830

Fr. Terry Tyler, Law Enforcement Chaplain:  

Cascade County Sheriff/Coroner’s Office
3800 Ulm N. Frontage Road
Great Falls, MT  59404