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Resilience Makes Law Enforcement Better

Expert Views
Blurry image of a police vehicle with lights flashing, and a person standing in foreground with back turned wearing a vest emblazoned with "Police"

Part of our Goal: Resilience collection, where NORC researchers share insights from their work in support of human resilience.

Author

Elizabeth Mumford
Senior Fellow, Public Health

 

Weiwei Liu
Principal Research Scientist, Public Health

February 2024

Let’s start with our bottom line: we care about well-being in law enforcement for the sake of individual officers. Moreover, because of their mission to support public safety, officer well-being is also critically important to the communities they serve.

Law enforcement officers face a host of occupational, administrative, and reputational stressors. When their stress goes unmanaged, their performance and health decline, sometimes seriously.  

Our respective public health (Mumford) and criminal justice (Liu) training brought us to study how the stress experienced by professionals in the criminal justice sector may relate to their feelings about their jobs and their subsequent job performance. Further, taking a socio-ecological approach (check out this succinct graphic for the model) means looking not only at individual officer resilience but also agency-level factors that might be relevant. (All the rationale for this research doesn’t negate the personal motivations, like the fact that Elizabeth’s aunt and uncle first met as police officers assigned to the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel in the ’70s.)

Our Officer Safety and Wellness (OSAW) Initiative, launched with our NORC colleague Dr. Bruce Taylor in 2011, was designed to pay attention to the different facets of law enforcement for the benefit of both individual and community outcomes.

Using our longitudinal OSAW data, we looked at officers’ reports of their perceived stress, job satisfaction, and job performance ratings (how they would rate themselves and how their supervisors rated their performance at their last check-in). We also examined how agency wellness programs and officers’ personal resilience might mitigate the effects of stress on job satisfaction and performance.

Main Takeaways

  • Officers’ stress predicted lower job satisfaction a year later and self-reports of poorer job performance two years later.
  • Higher job satisfaction predicted better job performance reports at the end of the following year.
  • Highly resilient officers (compared to those with low/moderate resilience) and officers with easily accessible agency wellness programming (compared to those whose agencies did not offer wellness programming support or for whom there were stigma concerns) were more likely to avoid the negative impact of stress on job performance.

Our current analyses of OSAW data included 684 officers participating in the Officer Safety and Wellness (OSAW) Initiative. We estimated structural equation models to examine direct effects and, in subsequent analyses, the moderating effects of officer resilience and agency wellness programming on the stress-job satisfaction and job satisfaction-job performance associations. 

Officers’ stress (wave 1) was negatively associated with job satisfaction (wave 2), which in turn was positively associated with job performance (wave 3). These associations remained significant among officers reporting low to moderate baseline resilience and those lacking easy access to agency-based wellness programs but dissipated among officers with high resilience and access to wellness programs.  

This is the first nationally representative effort that we know of attempting to measure how U.S. police officers perceive their job performance. Moreover, our representative longitudinal study design uniquely allowed us to explore the impact of stress on job satisfaction and whether job satisfaction influenced job performance. 

Our findings validate the temporal relationship between the association of stress levels, job satisfaction, and job performance among police officers. Agency initiatives such as wellness programs and resilience training can support officer retention and performance.

Policy Implications

Investing in resilience training and wellness programs may help lessen the impact of stress on police officers’ well-being, job satisfaction, and performance—a win for officers, agencies, and communities. Administrators and policymakers striving to retain a high-performance police workforce may consider these results in recruiting as well as academy and in-service wellness training and program decisions.

Webinar Series

The Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) is hosting a five-webinar series based on the study of officer safety and wellness that PERF conducted in partnership with NORC at the University of Chicago, with funding from the National Institute of Justice. View the webinar series.



Citation

Mumford, E. & Liu, W. (2024, February 12). Resilience Makes Law Enforcement Better. NORC at the University of Chicago. Retrieved from https://www.norc.org.

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