It has been increasingly recognised that individuals exposed to the trauma of others within their professional roles can be affected by secondary traumatic stress (STS). Despite this recognition, there is a dearth of literature examining the prevalence of secondary traumatic stress amongst police officers in the UK. This study aims to meet this gap. Sixty-three Detective Officers from Family Protection Units (FPU(s)), primarily engaged in child protection/abuse investigations, self-reported their experi- ences and symptoms associated with STS through a questionnaire. Findings indicate that over half of the respondents experi- enced STS symptoms with 11% reporting levels of symptoms that were in the high or severe range. This study is significant in that it provides empirical evidence of issues that have so far been little documented in the UK and considers the implications for policing policy and practice in terms of the health and well-being of serving police officers. . . . Keywords Child protection Secondary traumatic stress Police Well-being Introduction literature and have changed over time (Levin et al. 2014). Levin et al. (2014, pp. 146) suggest that the core criteria that have maintained consistency are ‘exposure to a traumatic Exposure to trauma (e.g. terrorism, natural disasters, child abuse) can impact on the health and well-being of individuals stressor […], re-experiencing the trauma, numbing and avoid- (MacEachern et al. 2011;Palm etal. 2004). A body of litera- ance […], and increased arousal and vigilance’. For the most part, the empirical focus of such trauma research ture considers the ways in which police officers can be affect- ed through exposure to traumatic situations. Often, this work in police officers has been on the individuals who have been examines the incidence or prevalence of post-traumatic stress directly exposed to trauma with the aim to develop treatment disorder (PTSD) and other traumatic symptomatology associated with PTSD (Palm et al. 2004). There is also a notable research literature that has sought to understand a wide range of amongst police officers in various contexts such as exposure to death, threat of death, homicide or ‘body handling’ PTSD-associated phenomena amongst police officers such as the (Alexander and Wells 1991; Sewell 1994; Sugimoto and influence of gender, ethnicity and personality traits in the devel- Oltjenbruns 2001) and victim work (Martin et al. 1986). The opment of PTSD (Hodgins et al. 2001; Lilly et al. 2009;Poleet al. 2001). For instance, literature suggests that rates of PTSD (e.g. definition and criteria for PTSD have been debated in the current rates, lifetime prevalence) are generally higher in women (see Tolin and Foa 2006 for a review). However, when exploring PTSD and gender in police studies, there is less consistency. * Divya Jindal-Snape firstname.lastname@example.org Some studies report gender differences in the police (Bowler et al. 2010), whilst others have found no gender differences be- Research Centre for Transformative Change: Educational and Life tween police women and men (Andrew et al. 2008; Ellrich and Transitions (TCELT), University of Dundee, Dundee, UK Baier 2015;Poleetal. 2001). Furthermore, in comparing police Billings Clinic, Billings, MT, USA women to female civilians, police women have been shown to Centre for Medical Education, University of Dundee, Dundee, UK have less severe PTSD symptomology (Lilly et al. 2009). Although there has been a significant body of research Department of Psychology, Social Work and Allied Health Sciences, Glasgow Caledonia University, Glasgow, UK exploring police officers’ direct exposure to trauma, MacEachern et al. (2011) highlight that there is a dearth of School of Education and Social Work, University of Dundee, research investigating the effect upon individuals indirectly Nethergate, Dundee DD1 4HN, UK 166 J Police Crim Psych (2019) 34:165–174 exposed to trauma. These are individuals who do not directly Although there is literature that discusses the possibility experience a traumatic event but are exposed to it indirectly, that police officers may be affected by STS (e.g. Brown et for instance through the experiences of others. According to al. 2010), there is limited empirical evidence which aims to Herman (1992), professionals employed in the field of psy- understand or measure STS in the context of police officers. In chosocial services are very likely to encounter persons who part, the lack of work around STS amongst police officers may have experienced one or more traumatic events. These range be attributable to the fact that STS has only recently begun to from medical, mental health and other healthcare workers to be studied as a phenomenon in its own right (see MacEachern emergency personnel (including police officers, fire fighters et al. 2011 for a full review). However, one area of law en- and paramedics), social workers and media professionals forcement investigation that has received attention in recent (Palm et al. 2004). Psychosocial service providers often must years in regard to STS has been in the context of internet child share the emotional burden of the trauma, bearing witness to exploitation (Bourke and Craun 2014a; Bourke and Craun damaging or cruel circumstances that individuals have expe- 2014b; Brady 2016; Perez et al. 2010). Perez et al. (2010) rienced and acknowledge the existence of terrible and trau- explored STS in law enforcement personnel in the USA who matic events in the world (Herman 1992). Note that the emo- investigated child pornography cases. They found that a large tional impact the caregiver experiences as a result of the terror proportion of the personnel had symptoms of STS with aver- and anguish can produce a unique set of symptoms such as age scores on the Secondary Traumatic Stress Scale (STSS; helplessness, rage, anger, depression, isolation, paranoia and Bride et al. 2004) indicating moderate STS. Their study also hypervigilance. McCann and Pearlman (1990) and Figley highlighted that the amount of time the participants specified (1995) further assert that as a direct consequence of the pro- they had worked with disturbing material was also positively cess, service providers are repeatedly encountering traumatic associated with symptoms of STS. Bourke and Craun (2014a) events through vivid and detailed descriptions of what the also explored STS in over 600 personnel across the USA who survivor has directly experienced, which may result in the investigate internet child exploitation. They found that the emergence of secondary traumatic stress symptoms. majority of participants experienced mild severity or lower This phenomenon has been variously described and defined of STS symptoms using the STSS. However, 15% of partici- within the literature as ‘secondary traumatic stress’ (STS; Figley pants were experiencing levels of symptoms classified in the 1995), ‘secondary traumatic stress disorder’ (STSD; Munroe et severe range. They also explored coping mechanisms in rela- al. 1995), ‘vicarious traumatisation’ (McCann and Pearlman tion to STS scores and found that social support, particularly 1990), ‘compassion fatigue’ and so forth (see for example, supervisory support, was associated with lower STS scores. Joinson 1992). Importantly, the most recent version of the On the other hand, denial was the only coping mechanism that DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), was associated with higher STS scores. Finally, they found DSM-V, has expanded its PTSD criteria, to include not only that being male was predictive of lower STS scores. direct experience of a traumatic event but also indirect exposure However, a key critique of their study was that 73% of partic- (e.g. ‘experiencing repeated or extreme exposure to aversive de- ipants were male. tails of the traumatic events’) such as police officers investigating Craun et al. (2014) explored scores of STS in a group of child abuse (Levin et al. 2014, pp. 147). There is considerable law enforcement personnel that were involved in sex offence controversy surrounding the conceptual difference between these investigations as well as a broader group of deputies also various constructs (Jenkins and Baird 2002) and a lack of con- involved in the Deputy US Marshals over a 3-year period of sistency within the literature regarding how these conditions may time. On average, this group of law enforcement personnel differ or converge (Leinwber and Rowe 2008;Najjaret al. 2009). had lower scores of STS than those described in Perez et al. For the purposes of this study, we used the concept of (2010) and Bourke and Craun (2014a). Whilst the majority of ‘secondary traumatic stress’ defined by Bride and Kintzle participants had scores in the mild severity or lower symptoms (2011,pp. 22) as: of STS (73.15), only 6.7% of individuals reported symptoms in the severe range. In general, they found that most individ- ‘STS refers to the occurrence of posttraumatic stress ual’s STS scores remained stable over time. Supervisory sup- symptoms following indirect exposure to traumatic port and avoidance of a denial style of coping were important events. The indirect exposure typically occurs via a longitudinally. Low physical activity was also associated with close personal or professional relationship with one or great risk of STS and an increase in the use of alcohol or more traumatized persons who recount, often repetitive- tobacco aligned with large increases in STS scores. Finally, ly, the traumatic experience’ gender was not predictive of STS scores. The majority of studies exploring STS in law enforcement Thus, STS is considered to be the manifestation of PTSD personnel focus on the US context. Only one study so far has symptoms amongst persons who are connected to the traumat- explored the UK context. Bourke and Craun (2014b) com- ic experiences of others (Collins and Long 2003). pared UK and US law enforcement personnel working in child J Police Crim Psych (2019) 34:165–174 167 exploitation. The UK sample had lower STS scores as com- Because of the sensitative nature of the study, particular care pared to the US sample. For example, in the US sample, was taken to ensure participants had detailed information about 15.3% of personnel were in the severe category of STS on the nature of the study and issues of data protection. Invited the STSS scale as compared to 10.4% of individuals in the respondents were sent an initial covering letter outlining the UK sample. Furthermore, the UK sample had a larger propor- nature of the study directly from Force Head Quarters. tion (36.9%) of individuals in the low/no STS category as Afterwards, Force Head Quarters also sent an information compared the US sample (26.4%). This study suggests that sheet, consent letter and questionnaire along with a return ad- there are differences between the USA and UK in relation to dress envelope addressed to divisional FPU personnel. The STS scores, and therefore, more research is needed in the UK information sheet provided a detailed overview of and instruc- context to enable further comparisons to be made in the tions for the study in addition to the contact details of the literature. researcher (DM) if there were any questions or concerns. DM This study therefore has several key aims. First, it aims to is an insider researcher who has worked directly in the Force as explore the level and experience of STS in law enforcement a trainer/lecturer in the area of FPU. Given the nature of the personnel in the UK to provide further understanding of the issues being explored, mechanisms were identified and imple- UK context and enable comparisons with other populations. mented to ensure that all participants could access information Second, it aims to explore gender differences. To address these and sources of support if and when necessary. aims, we have developed two research questions: Sixty-three police officers (34 female and 29 male) partic- ipated in the study. All of the respondents were 26 years of age 1) What is the experience of STS in detective officers work- or over. The majority of participants were full-time FPU de- ing in the Family Protection Unit (FPU)? tectives (62%); however, individuals in other roles were also 2) Are there gender differences in STS levels amongst de- identified (see Table 1). One individual did not indicate their tective officers? current role. The range of service of respondents (number of years employed as police officers) was distributed over 4– 30 years (see Table 1 for full information). Study Methods and Analysis Data Collection Study Design The questionnaire contained two broad components. The first component was the Secondary Traumatic Stress Scale (STSS) The study was conducted with a Police Force in the UK. A which measured STS. This STSS was devised by Bride et al. self-completion questionnaire was utilised, which contained (2004) to measure work-related STS in social workers. The both qualitative and quantitative components. scale is composed of three subscales (intrusion, e.g., ‘Ihad disturbing dreams about my work with clients’; avoidance, Sampling and Recruitment e.g., ‘I wanted to avoid working with some clients’; and arous- al, e.g., ‘I was easily annoyed’) with each item on the STSS After approval from the Assistant Chief Constable Crime (Bride et al. 2004) corresponding to one of the 17 PTSD (Operations) and ethical approval from the University symptoms outlined in the DSME-IV-TR (APA, 2000). The Research Ethics Committee, an independent senior HR officer STSS was tailored to suit a British-based research study in- contacted all 100 police officers who were at that time volving a Police Force after discussion with Bride. conducting or were about to commence the role of FPU officer Respondents were asked to indicate how frequently they ex- with the Family Protection Unit. FPUs are staffed primarily by perienced each of the 17 symptoms using a five-option Likert- practitioners (Detective Constables), with first-line type response format, ranging from 1 to 5 (1 = never, 5 = most management/supervisory responsibility being over seen by of the time). A score for each respondent was obtained by Detective Sergeants. At the time of the study, officers in the summing up the responses, giving a possible score of 17 FPU dealt with a range of additional types of investigations (17 × 1 = 17) to 85 (17 × 5 = 85). A symptom was considered such as sexual assault, cot death and missing persons. ‘endorsed’ by a respondent if ‘occasionally’, ‘frequently’ or Detectives were involved in both noting witness statements ‘most of the time’ was indicated, i.e. ratings 3, 4 or 5. from victims/survivors and in interviewing the suspect/ac- The second component was a set of open questions to fur- cused. It was considered imperative to explore views from ther explore participants’ experiences and perspectives of these various stakeholders working within the FPUs. working in the FPU, i.e. experiences with traumatised persons Professional codes of ethical practice were adhered to in (clients/complainers/witnesses who may have experienced or respect to participant confidentiality and anonymity, informed witnessed various kinds of abuse). It also explored the person- consent, data collection/ storage, analysis and dissemination. al experiences of working within the FPU including 168 J Police Crim Psych (2019) 34:165–174 Table 1 Participant Characteristic Number (%) Female/male characteristics Gender Female 34 (54%) – Male 29 (46%) – Job role FPU - F=23/M=16 39 (62%) Trainee detectives - F=5/M=4 9 (14%) Supervisors - F=1/M=6 7 (11%) DO general CID - F=2/M=2 4 (6%) Secondment - F=1/M=0 1 (2%) Another role - F=1/M=1 2 (3%) Years of police experience 4–7 years 12 (9%) F = 6/M = 6 8–25 years 43 (68%) F = 28/M = 15 26–30 years 8 (13%) F =0/M =8 Years in FPU post 0–6 months 8 F = 6/M = 2 7 months–1 year 16 F =5/M =11 1–2 years 9 F =5/M =4 2–3 years 16 F = 8/M = 8 3–4 years 2 F =0/M =2 4+ years 11 F = 9/M = 2 Dependent* Had dependent 31 (51%) F = 15/M = 16 Did not have dependent 30 (49%) F = 19/M = 11 Note: Numbers do not always add to 63 due to missing response. *Dependents = babies and children under school age; school age children and or disabled relative, people the officer is responsible for caring for in their own family perspective on the psychosocial impact of FPU work, quality Results of life, health, support mechanisms and the extent to which negative psychosocial phenomena and emotions impact upon Exposure to Trauma occupational performance. The construction of the question- naire was informed by the theoretical and empirical literature In order to assess the extent to which police officers in the on PTSD/STSS. The questionnaire was piloted with a small sample were exposed to the trauma of others, participants subsample of FPU police officers (n = 4) to strengthen validity were asked to estimate the prevalence of trauma amongst cli- along a range of dimensions (face, content and construct ents/witness/complainer’s with whom they had conducted in- validity). vestigations. Twelve (4 male, 8 female) participants consid- ered the percentage of trauma in those they worked with to be Data Analysis over 70%, 20 (12 male, 8 female) participants considered it to be between 51 and 70%, 22 (9 male, 13 female) participants The questionnaire collected both quantitative and qualitative between 21 and 50% and 7 (2 male, 5 female) less than 20%. data. The data collected required both statistical analysis and Two male participants did not respond to this question. An the development of common/recurring or new themes. independent sample t test revealed no significant difference Quantitative data were analysed using SPSS. Descriptive sta- between males (M = 5.88, SD = 2.39) and females (M = tistics including frequencies and summary statistics (means 5.20, SD = 2.91) in relation to the perception of the prevalence and standard deviations) were first obtained. Inferential statis- of client/witness/complainer trauma (t (59) = .0983, p = .32 tical tests were then conducted using both parametric and non- (two tailed). These data suggest that although there was vari- parametric, chi-square tests and independent samples t tests. ance in the extent to which police officers consider themselves The level of probability throughout the study was p =0.05. to be exposed to the trauma of others, the majority of partic- Qualitative data were extracted from the semi structured ipants considered themselves to be exposed to some degree. questionnaire and were subjected to a manual thematic analysis as espoused by Denscombe (2007) following five Level of Symptom Severity stages: data preparation, familiarity with the data, data inter- pretation (development of categories/themes and concepts), The means, standard deviations and ranges of score on the data verification, presenting the data. The research team were STS were calculated for all participants (see Table 2). involved in a sample cross-check. When broken down by gender, there were no significant J Police Crim Psych (2019) 34:165–174 169 differences found between male (median = 28) and female limits (Respondent 48, female, 4-7 years’ service, (median = 29) participants in mean STS score using a Aide to FPU) Mann-Whitney U (U =461, z − .442, ns, r = −.06). We also calculated mean scores for the intrusion, avoidance and arousal subscales (see Table 2). Therewerealso no Sleeping Difficulties significant differences between male and females in scores across the subscales. Respondents indicated that they sometimes experienced Half of respondents experienced little or no STS (see sleeping difficulties as a result of the work or that sleeping Table 3). Three respondents were found to be experienc- difficulties could be exacerbated. One respondent said, ing ‘high’ levels of STS whilst four respondents fell with- in the ‘severe’ category. Although there were no statisti- I suffer from difficulty sleeping. I have always done, cally significant differences between males and females in however, with my brain being so active in my current overall scores, it is interesting to note that only females in role, I find insomnia has been exacerbated and if I do not this study met the criteria for ‘severe’ STS. Crucially, fall asleep quickly my thoughts often become that of these results indicate that over half of the respondents current or past work. (Respondent 1, female, 11-15 (51%) were experiencing some symptoms associated with years’ service, full time FPU). STS. The 17 symptoms were categorised under intrusion Others indicated that thoughts and images about specific symptoms, avoidance symptoms and arousal symptoms. cases could sometimes cause sleeping difficulties, Responses in relation to intrusion symptoms (symptoms 1–5) contained the least and most frequently experienced This was the case regarding the video recording of the symptoms. The most frequently reported symptom was in- child being abused which I had to view, especially as I trusive thoughts about victims, complainers and suspects had personally interview[ed] the child previously with 10 male and 12 female respondents indicating that (Respondent 43, female, 4-7 years’ service, full time they thought about their work without intending to. A FPU). symptom was considered to be present for respondents indicating ‘occasionally’,frequently’ or ‘most of the time’. Endorsement of the seven avoidance symptoms (symptoms Emotional Response to Work 6–12) was varied. Emotional numbing was the most fre- quently reported symptom in this subscale and across the When asked to provide comments on whether they had experienced an altered emotional response to work, full STS where 19 males and 23 females reported experiencing emotional numbing. No participants indicat- some participants did report experiencing an altered re- ed that they avoided people, places or things serving as a sponse both within and outside the work context. One reminder of work. Finally, we explored rates for endorse- participant reported, ment of the remaining arousal symptoms (symptoms 13– 17). Hypervigilance was the most frequently reported I cried my eyes out frequently in the first week of my symptom in this category and was the second highest posting, at the end I was more hardened to the abuse across the scale (males, N =13; females, N = 20). suffered, you get used to such horrible work and hearing harrowing stories (Respondent 63, female, 16-20 years’ Experiences of Symptoms service, Full time FPU). Burnout Alternatively, other respondents talked about the professional dilemmas they experienced in relation to their emotional re- Many participants discussed that their work was emotionally sponses. One respondent said, and physically draining and exhausting. In relation to this, many reported that they had experienced a loss of enthusiasm A recent historical sexual abuse enquiry involving two and sense of achievement in their work. Others reported feel- sistersabused bytheir father. Frommytimeinthe ing professionally inadequate because they felt ‘tired’, FACU the abuse was the most horrific and degrading drained’, ‘exhausted’ and ‘stressed’. One participant wrote, that I have dealt with and being the first person both sisters had told in detail I felt a real sense of ‘wanting [I am] just tired and stressed which leads to slow- to get justice for them’, while not showing my disgust of ness of mind and easy confusion when dealing with what they had been through. (Respondent 11, female, 11-15 year service, full time FPU) an incident that requires attention to detail, heavy 170 J Police Crim Psych (2019) 34:165–174 Table 2 Means, standard deviations, ranges and percentiles for intrusion, avoidance and arousal subscales and the full STSS Range Inferential statistics Scale Mean (SD) Mean (SD) Mean (SD) Possible Observed Observed Observed total male female total male female Intrusion 7.73 (2.81), 7.24 (2.28) 8.15 (3.17) 5–25 5–14 5–14 5–14 U =440, z − .754, ns, subscale α = .733 r = −.01 Avoidance 11.90 (3.73) 11.79 (2.96) 12.00 (4.33) 7–35 7–22 7–17 7–22 U =470, z − .320, ns, subscale α = .696 r = −.04 Arousal subscale 10.19 (3.93) 9.76 (3.23) 10.56 (4.47) 5–25 5–19 5–16 5–19 U =466, z − .375, ns, α = .763 r = −.05 Full STSS 29.83 (9.53) 28.79 (7.16) 30.71 (11.20) 17–85 17–55 18–43 17–55 U =461, z − .442, ns, α = .882 α =.763 α = .923 r = −.06 Empathy Shown to Complainers/Witnesses For 40% of participants, symptoms were mild to moderate on the STSS, whilst for 11% of the participants, the degree of Many respondents reported an increase in their ability to em- symptomatology was high or severe. Bride (2007)suggests pathise. One respondent said, a total score of over 38 on the STSS would be indicative of clinical levels of PTSD as a result of STS. Individuals in the I understand the power of empathy and its usefulness as high or severe categories were well over this score indicating aninvestigatoryaid.Iwouldsayworkingwiththe that a reasonable proportion of FPU detectives may be FACU (FPU) has increased my awareness and I now experiencing clinical levels of STS. make more use of empathy’ (Respondent 62, male, 26- These findings align with previous research in the USA 30 years’ service, Supervisor). exploring STS in law enforcement officials involved in online child exploitation cases who have also found that a large pro- Other respondents reported that they had developed an ability portion of investigators report STS symptoms (Bourke and to detached their empathy, Craun 2014a; Brady 2016; Perez et al. 2010). For example, Bourke and Craun (2014a) found that over 70% of investiga- I have gained the ability to be outwardly empathetic but tors had some symptoms of STS with a quarter of investiga- detached (Respondent 11, female, 11-15 years’ service, tors reporting symptom levels that were high or severe. Perez full time Female and Child Unit). et al. (2010) found that 18% of investigators were experienc- ing symptom levels that were high with an average score on the STSS at 36.11. Both of these studies report levels of symp- toms that are even higher than those reported in this study. Discussion However, our findings were more in alignment with Craun et al. (2014) where 11.8% of law enforcement personnel ex- This study provides data on STS amongst police officers perienced high or severe symptoms. Their sample of law en- conducting investigations in the FPU within the UK. It also forcement personnel was broader than personnel just involved aimed to explore the role of gender in the experience of STS as in child exploitation cases. Additionally, the findings of this a result of the role they were performing and to establish types study have some parallels with other contexts such as social of symptoms they were experiencing. In total, half of the sam- work where Bride et al. 2004 found that average scores on the ple of respondents (51%) were experiencing some degree of STSS were 29.5. It would be interesting to further explore STS symptomatology with average scores of 29.83 on STSS. whether specific types of investigations leave individuals Table 3 Frequency and level of Category Level of secondary Total N (%) Male N (%) Female N (%) secondary traumatic stress (based on percentile) traumatic stress experience by police investigating child protection 50th—less than 29 Little or no 32 (51) 16 (25) 16 (25) 75th—between 29 and 34 Mild 14 (22) 7 (11) 7 (11) 90th—between 35 and 42 Moderate 10 (16) 5 (8) 5 (8) 95th—between 43 and 49 High 3 (5) 1 (2) 2 (3) Above 95th—50+ Severe 4 (6) 0 (0) 4 (6) J Police Crim Psych (2019) 34:165–174 171 more at risk to symptoms of STS. Brady (2016) found evi- stance being that people knew what they were getting into when dence to suggest that the type of content of materials that they joined the police and being expected to show a ‘stiff upper individuals were investigating related to risk of STS. lip’ (Pryce et al. 2007). Pryce et al. (2007) assert that when Furthermore, Perez et al. (2010) found that the amount of time supervisors and colleagues inform co-workers that they ‘just individuals had exposure to disturbing material correlated have to get used to it all’ (pp. 82) and subsequently avoid dis- with STS symptoms. Additionally, the vast majority of cases cussions about cases and any associated effects of trauma on exploring STS in law enforcement personnel have been con- workers, it shows‘maladaptive coping’ behaviour on the part of ducted in the USA. The only study that reports on STS in law the supervisor. In future studies, it would be important to further enforcement personnel in the UK found that rates of STS were explore how cultural norms may influence coping of DOs. lower in the UK as compared to the USA (Bourke and Craun No significant differences were found between men and 2014b). Our findings also support the idea that reported symp- womeninrelationtoscoreson theoverarchingSTS scores or toms of STS in police officers in the UK may be lower than the subscales. This is in alignment with research in STS and those reported in the USA. It would be important to further PTSD that reports that gender is not predictive of symptomatol- explore why these differences might exist. ogy (Andrew et al. 2008; Craun et al. 2014; Ellrich and Baier When exploring the subscale scores on the STSS (sub di- 2015;Poleetal. 2001). However, other studies have reported vided into intrusion, avoidance and arousal symptoms), certain that being male is associated with lower risk for STS and PTSD symptoms within some of the scales were more frequently (Bourke and Craun 2014a;Bowleretal. 2010;Brady 2016) reported amongst the group. Within the intrusion subscale, just which aligns with the broader literature exploring PTSD in the over a third of the respondents (n = 22) indicated that they general population (Tolin and Foa 2006). Finally, Bourke and thought about their work without intending to. Given the na- Craun (2014b) found that being male was associated with lower ture of the work and the intimate details respondents frequently STS scores only in their US sample and not their UK sample. had to listen and note statements about, it was not surprising This suggests that exploring the influence of gender across that individuals were experiencing intrusions. When exploring context such as the US A and UK might be important. literature around PTSD, experiencing intrusions is not neces- The questionnaires also explored certain symptoms in more sarily indicative of whether or not someone continues to expe- detail collecting both quantitative and qualitative data. The study rience distress and PTSD symptoms in the future (Michael et provided further support for the idea that a large proportion of al. 2005). It is the way in which individuals appraise the intru- FPU detectives are experiencing burnout, sleeping difficulties, sion, specifically if they have dysfunctional negative beliefs altered emotional responses to work and changes in empathy about it (e.g. ‘repeatedly thinking about this event means that towards complainers/witness. The qualitative data provides there is something wrong with me’) that seems to be pivotal in more in depth descriptions of what the experiences of these the maintenance of the symptom and this may also relate to symptoms or cognitive and behavioural changes are like. other symptoms such as avoidance (Ehlers and Steil 1995). It is important to note that not all of the changes reported by Therefore, further work could explore the nature of such intru- the broader participant group were negative. Over half of the sions and the way in which individuals are appraising them. respondents indicated that they were now more empathetic As far as the arousal subscale, hyper vigilance was the sec- towards the people they came into contact with and had de- ond most endorsed statement, followed by difficulty concen- veloped skills such as being able to appear empathetic yet trating, irritability and difficulty sleeping. Furthermore, when maintain a level of detachment from a situation. This aligns examining avoidance symptoms, emotional numbing, detach- with other literature that suggests that there can be positive ment from others and diminished activity levels and inability to symptoms associated with doing this type of work (Perez et al. recall client information were the symptoms most frequently 2010; Stamm 2002). For instance, both Perez et al. (2010)and reported. Avoidance behaviours can be linked to a helpful con- Stamm (2002) found that instead of being negatively affected cept within the clinical literature called safety behaviours where by the work, many individuals feel great satisfaction that they individuals engage in both cognitive and behavioural avoidance have made some sort of difference. This may act as a buffer strategies to reduce anxiety (Moulds et al. 2008). Paradoxically, and be protective from negative feelings, reactions and expe- literature suggests that engaging in these safety behaviours con- riences. Furthermore, there may be opportunities to further tributes to disorder maintenance (Salkovskis 1989). Other stud- explore this area and what is means considering other theoret- ies exploring coping in relation to STS have found that coping ical frameworks. For instance, communication accommoda- through denial is related to higher STS scores (Bourke and tion theory may be helpful in exploring the ways in which Craun 2014a; Bourke and Craun 2014b; Craun et al. 2014). It Detective Officers learn to accommodate their communication is also important to explore how cultural norms within the po- to more successful function in these contexts (Giles and Ogay lice might interact with issues like avoidance behaviours. 2007). It would be important to continue to explore both the Anecdotally, police personnel have shied away from admitting positive and negative aspects to understand the full complex- that certain incidents were upsetting, with the perpetuating ity of how engaging in this type of work links with STS. 172 J Police Crim Psych (2019) 34:165–174 Methodological Strengths and Limitations procedures and the services provided to staff conducting child protection investigations. The officers in this study were pro- Due to the specific nature of the study and the area of special- vided with support resources they could engage with such as ism being explored (only Detective Officers working in the incident stress debriefing and confidential advice and counsel- FPU), the study does not provide a view of STS across the ling services through the Employee Well-being Programme. broader police force. In any subsequent studies, a larger sample However, these resources were only available through self- consisting of child protection Detective Officers from across referral mechanisms. Officers were also provided with a 3- the Police Force would be desirable. This would also provide week training course which provided training in General CID opportunity for further more complex statistical analyses. A investigation duties covering, murder, serious crime investiga- further limitation in the study is that participants self-selected tion, fire investigation, serious assault, rape, sexual offences, to participate in the study by deciding to return the question- cells site analysis of mobile phone enquiries and tape- naires. A total of 100 questionnaires were originally dissemi- recorded interview training. Officers also could attend bespoke nated with 63 being returned. The views of any person, who training courses (e.g. Domestic Abuse Training courses, Child failed to take part or return questionnaires, have not been rep- Protection Training courses, Sexual Assault Investigation resented in the results of the study and as such may cause a course). Although beyond the scope of this paper, it would be further bias to the results. Relatedly, thedataareself-reported important to explore the efficacy of such resources, particularly and therefore the limitations that arise in self-reported data must the self-referral resources, and whether there is scope for devel- be considered. For instance, it is also important to note that oping this support further. Through the identification of key respondents were asked to report whether they were working barriers and facilitators, there may be opportunity to enhance with people who had experienced trauma. It is recognised that the existing support systems. For example, the findings from individual understanding of ‘trauma’ may vary quite consider- this study and future studies on STS could form the foundation ably and such understanding may be at variance with clinical on which to inform and build future police child protection definitions as well individual’s own interpretation over time. education and learning, supervisory support, practices and The STS scale should also be considered. Having policy. researched thoroughly the assessment tools/instruments that It might also be important to explore whether certain individ- are frequently used to assess whether people are experiencing uals might be more vulnerable to STS because of previous his- the various stress-related constructs, Bride et al.’s(2004)STS tory, having children or dependents, age, experience or length of Scale was deemed the most suitable for the study to capture exposure. For instance, there is evidence from the literature that data in connection with the study’s aims. Sabo (2006)argues prior childhood trauma is associated with a greater likelihood of that although Bride’s STS Scale provides a fast and simple adverse reaction when providing services to sexual abuse survi- vors (Follette et al. 1994). These groups may have special sup- assessment tool to gauge the presence of STS, as with many of the trauma instruments, the target population is a specific port or training needs that could be identified and developed. group of health care professionals and/or social workers, Police Forces need to ensure that staff within the FPU are ap- which she suggests indicates a ‘lack of adaptability to accom- propriately supported and de-briefed in a bid to minimise/reduce modate a variety of STS exposures’ (pp. 139). Discussions the potential risk of psychiatric harm incurred by Forces failing with the instrument’s author, Brian Bride, identified that the to take‘adequate precautions’ to reduce such risks. Other studies STS Scale was considered the instrument that could be used to have highlighted the importance of support of co-workers, su- ascertain if police officers were experiencing STS. Given the pervisors and the organisation in mitigating symptoms of STS similarities in post and the ability of the researcher to alter (Bourke and Craun 2014a; Bourke and Craun 2014b;Brady certain words in Bride’s instrument to suit the group of per- 2016; Craun et al. 2014). Additionally, social support outside sons being surveyed without affecting the instrument, out of of work has also been reported as a mitigating factor (Bourke all the assessment instruments/tools, it was considered the and Craun 2014a;Brady 2016; Perez et al. 2010). most appropriate for this study. In light of incidents such as an Officer being paid damages for psychiatric harm in Australia (New South Wales v. Implications for Professionals and Policy Makers Seedsman, 2000), it is important to consider the role the UK police plays in supporting officers impacted by STS. Is it still There is growing empirical evidence of the existence of STS legitimate for UK Police Forces to rely on Alcock v. Chief and the effects of the phenomenon on the professionals who Constable of South Yorkshire Police (1992) decision that per- work with people who are traumatised. The current study sug- petuates the British courts’ unwillingness to recognise the ef- gests that Detective Officers conducting child protection en- fects of secondary exposure to traumatic incidents/events and quiries are no less immune to the effects of STS than their the effects on police officers because of its emphasis on counterparts in health or social work services. The results raise ‘promixity in time and space’ to an incident or the existence of a ‘close tie of love and affection with the victim’ (Brown and a number of questions about current practice, policy, J Police Crim Psych (2019) 34:165–174 173 Porteous 2003, pp. 566)? Such decisions minimise the fear of This also raises further questions over supervision and sup- the floodgates opening and thus serving to narrow the range port and the significance of child protection work in the police and reduce the number of actions brought against Chief force priorities. Although high on the UK Government and Officers by potential secondary victims. As mentioned earlier, police force priorities and control strategy, respondents still it is important for Forces to address the well-being of personnel, perceive their work to be less important and minimised in to deal effectively with work-related stressors, to ensure the the ‘bigger picture’ of policing priorities, with lack of staff, effectiveness of operations and competency of Police Forces. under funding and working conditions exacerbating the situ- A new document, Policing Vision 2025, aligns with this view ation. To what extent are such perceptions linked to managers wherethereis afocus on ‘building an evidence base on staff and senior officers not having had first-hand experience of well-being [.. .] so that those who work in policing can be being a practitioner within FPUs? Are there any underlying supported and valued through change’ (National Police reasons precluding FPU practitioners from being readily iden- Chiefs’ Council, 2016, pp. 9). The ultimate aim being to en- tified for promotion and placed in supervisory roles within the hance the performance of the organisation and provide better department, where their knowledge and experience may influ- service to the public. It is important to look at preventative ence practice and quality of supervision to practitioners? measures particularly for trainees new to this type of work but Therefore, this area too warrants research into any causal fac- also intervention strategies for individuals experiencing high tors affecting promotion of female FPU officers. The absence levels of STS symptoms. In addition to health costs for individ- of research in Police FPUs remains, with a crucial need for uals, there are implications for the broader functioning of the research in this occupational group of police officers. Finally, department when a proportion of individuals are experiencing further empirical studies are required to be undertaken on the clinical levels of STS. Therefore, these strategies must move effects of STS on police officers who conduct child protection beyond focusing just on individuals but also exploring strate- enquiries, both from a national and international perspective. gies at a collective level (it is important to note here that the department was informed of the STS levels of staff whilst Compliance with Ethical Standards protecting the identity of individuals). Conflict of Interest The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest. Implications for Future Research Ethical Approval University of Dundee Research Ethics Committee and A number of areas were touched upon in this study, but would the organisation where this study was conducted approved the study. merit further time and research. The study has raised questions aboutwhatisitabout childprotection work that impacts on the Informed Consent Participants were provided with information sheet and consent form. Informed consent was obtained from all participants. ability of the individuals performing this role to persevere even Due to the sensitive nature of the study, information and contact details of at times of intense pressure and heavy workloads. Furthermore, relevant occupational health service were also provided. it would be important to explore the impact of this work longi- Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative tudinally. Relatedly, it would be important to explore these im- Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http:// pacts on individuals who are more junior. For instance, work in creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, other sectors such as medicine suggest that having more clinical distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appro- experience may be a protective factor against distress when priate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. facing traumatic events (Jackson et al. 2005). This suggests that trainees may be a particularly vulnerable group that need targeted support. This finding aligns with other work which References has found differences in reactions by number of years of expo- sure and seniority of role (Brown and Blount, 1999). Alcock v. Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police. 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Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology – Springer Journals
Published: Jun 3, 2018
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