The law enforcement profession presupposes exposure to incidences that are traumatic. The trauma comes in different forms; escape by luck, shooting incidence, or near death experience. Apart from leaving a physical scar in some cases, the police shooting experiences can result in a long-lasting psychological problem. The police officers are usually depicted as heroic, brave, and tough individuals. However, similar to other humans, the officers are prone to emotional distress which in some cases may result in functional impairment. Any assistance to the law enforcers requires knowledge of some of the challenges they face. Hence, it is imperative to gain insight into the psychological impact the shooting experiences have on law enforcement.
Though the police officers undergo extensive training in handling different crime incidences, even the most extensive job training is not enough to prepare a police officer for the sight of a suspect pulling his or her gun at him or her. The law enforcers are represented as tough individuals, but some of the events they encounter are typically outside the realm of human experience and irrespective of stress tolerance or occupation, such experiences can be traumatizing to anyone including the police officers. Survivors of such experiences indicate feeling out of control and helpless. When the police officers are obliged to employ force, irrespective of how justified it may be, most officers manifest a degree of anger or guilt after a fatal confrontation. Psychiatrists label the emotional distress that follows the shooting incidence as a “post-shooting trauma” (Kureczka, 2002). The post-shooting trauma can extend beyond the scope of the police officer to include his or her family. The side effects can surface at home in the form of disillusionment, confusion, insecurity, grief, frustration, depression, and anger. The same elements that generate the identified emotional reactions can prepare police to handle involvement in upcoming incidences that are critical. Though with a positive implication, the psychological impact of shooting has detrimental effects on a law enforcement officer.
One of the effects of the shooting incidence on a law enforcement officer is post-traumatic stress disorder. The post-traumatic distress or what is alternatively known as post-shooting trauma describes anxiety disorder that follows a traumatic event. Most law enforcers who undergo a traumatic event exhibit some symptoms of post-traumatic stress, but only some develop the disorder. However, the most prominent effect of the shooting events on a law enforcer is critical incidence stress. Though some people classify the critical incidence stress as a part of the post-traumatic stress disorder, the psychological impairment ought to be classified on its own.
The critical incidence stress is characterized by some symptoms that are perceived as normal reactions to abnormal situations. Some of the symptoms of critical incident stress include alienation, depression, emotional numbing, flashbacks or intrusive thoughts, and sleep difficulties (Moad, 2011). The critical incidence of trauma is also characterized by isolation or withdrawal, nightmares, and a heightened sense of danger. In case the shooting incidence ends up in the death of the suspect, the officer involved may experience anger or blame. They may consider themselves as the source of the victim’s death irrespective of how wrong the victim was. Individual officers who avoid dealing with their emotional reaction may end up re-living their trauma. After the psychological distress, Moad (2011) indicates that the police officers involved in a shooting event may end with other symptoms that interfere with his or her functions. Some of the outcomes identified by Moad (2011) include suicidal thoughts, self-destructive behaviors, declined performance, burnout, and heightened absenteeism. Other detrimental outcomes include mental confusion, intense depression feeling, a growing sense of isolation, feeling of inadequacy, second-guessing, guilt, and self-doubt. The officer may also end up having increased irritability, rage or anger, risk-taking, underreacting, or overreacting, being hyper-vigilant, and try avoiding emotions and thoughts connected with the incidence.
Unarguably, the shooting incidences pose a detrimental psychological impact on the law enforcers. However, despite the experience of distressing and negative posttraumatic emotions, exposure to the shooting events has a chance of creating a positive outcome (Zoellner & Marchker, 2006). Though most of the literature examining the effects of traumatic events on law enforcers has focused on the negative attributes of the trauma, recent clinicians and theorists have begun pointing out that the traumatic events may trigger growth-oriented reactions termed as posttraumatic growth. Post-Traumatic growth describes positive outcomes from an event that changes an individual’s perception of the world. According to Tedeschi and Calhoun (2004), the outcome of the new event experienced by a police officer determined the level of posttraumatic growth. New schemas are produced by the cognitive process leading to the incorporation of the trauma or the event into the world view of the individual. According to Tedeschi and Calhoun (2004), the post-traumatic growth is not a consequence of the disappearance of the distress or the absence of suffering but rather an increased sense of personal strength, new purpose, and direction in life, enhanced spiritual belief, more meaningful interpersonal relationships, and a greater appreciation of life.
Police shooting experience is associated with some detrimental psychological impacts. The law enforcers who indulge in the utilization of deadly force encompassing shooting experience the emotional effect that when not well handled may be damaging to them as well as those they associate with. Though the trauma related to a shooting negatively affect the psychological wellbeing of the law enforcers, the experience is also associated with a favorable outcome, mainly posttraumatic growth.