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Law enforcement organizational behavior and the occurrence of post-traumatic stress symptomology in law enforcement personnel follwoing a critical incident


Research by Evans and Coman (1993), Sewell (1984), and Gudjonsson and Adlam (1983) suggests that being shot in the line of duty or the shooting of a partner are often ranked by officers, despite their infrequent occurrence, as the most stressful field events. This study was designed to elucidate factors within the organizational structure of law enforcement, other than the incident itself, which promote ineffective coping and increases in PTSD-like symptomology in police officers. This study found that both police officers, and the organization in which they work, practice predominately ineffective emotion-focused coping strategies following an officer-involved shooting. Possible links between organizational behavior and long-term post-traumatic symptomology were discovered; it appears that officers have readily available models of poor coping responses merely by imitating the behavior of their organization.

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Author Note: Charity Plaxton-Hennings, Psy.D., M.P.H., is a professor of health psychology, Azusa Pacific University, 901 East Alosta Avenue, Azusa, California 91702. She is also employed by The Counseling Team, Inc., in Southern California, providing organizational, therapeutic, and critical incident debriefing services to a variety of law enforcement and other public service agencies. A special thanks to Dr. Nancy Bohl for assisting in this project.

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Plaxton-Hennings, C. Law enforcement organizational behavior and the occurrence of post-traumatic stress symptomology in law enforcement personnel follwoing a critical incident. J Police Crim Psych 19, 53–63 (2004).

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