What Compels Police Officers to Harass and Bully Each Other?

Police officers encounter high levels of stress. They constantly put themselves in life-threatening situations and are often unaware of what challenges their workday will bring. In addition to these factors, they work hours that are sporadic and demanding, and engage in high levels of competition among other police units. These factors contribute to aggression and harassment in any work environment. For police officers, the risk may be even higher. But is harassment caused by these conditions alone, or is there something else causing police officer aggression? To answer this question, Michelle R. Tuckey of the Centre for Applied Psychological Research and the Work & Stress Research Group at the University of South Australia recently conducted a survey of 716 Australian police sergeants and constables who had experienced workplace harassment.

Tuckey found that most of the police officers cited increased harassment as a result of insufficient resources—but only tangible ones, such as computer equipment, vehicles, budget allocations, and manpower. This finding is quite interesting in that the demands associated with being a police officer did not directly relate to increased aggression or harassment. However, Tuckey believes the added stress associated with being a police officer, such disturbed sleep patterns, anxiety from fearful situations, and other mental stressors, depletes emotional resources. When these officers then have to compete with colleagues for limited tangible resources necessary to perform their job duties, they are primed for negative reactions such as bullying and harassing behaviors.

The only exception to this resource-harassment relationship was when police officers reported highly stressful interactions with offenders. This was directly linked to increased experiences of harassment. Overall, these results show that there are multiple contributing factors when it comes to workplace discontent. Tuckey believes power plays a big role in these findings. Officers who feel powerless over their ability to acquire resources or effectively control an offender may feel powerless among colleagues. This could be perceived as a sign of weakness and make them potential targets for harassment.

This research casts new light on the discussion of workplace harassment. Future work should explore if tangible resources affect aggressive behavior in other lines of work, similar to and different from the one examined here. “Such knowledge will help identify possibilities for job redesign and for enhancing specific resources that can buffer against negative workplace behavior,” Tuckey said.

Reference:
Tuckey, Michelle R., Sergio Chrisopoulos, and Maureen F. Dollard. Job demands, resource deficiencies, and workplace harassment: Evidence for micro-level effects. International Journal of Stress Management 19.4 (2012): 292-310. Print.

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  • kerri

    kerri

    December 6th, 2012 at 10:07 AM

    think its more about not having enough equipment and resources in a highly stressful and dangerous job that gets to them.when resources are available you feel like someone’s got your back and the stress levels may be lower but when those very things are lacking it can take a toll on them psychologically and that may promote such undesired behavior among police officers.

  • FireBelly

    FireBelly

    December 6th, 2012 at 3:42 PM

    Police officers harass each other too?I thought the only people they do harass are the citizens out there,law abiding citizens who always seem like a menace to these officers and whose rights are something they want to trample upon.rather than going after the real criminals of course.but hey,maybe this internal harassment of police officers towards each other is a blessing in disguise ;)

  • Svetlana

    Svetlana

    November 15th, 2013 at 3:32 AM

    It’s a known phenomena among any group of human population (and animals even), who are in a chronic (& untreated) stress and have no opportunity for relief (funds, peer/communal support, don’t see the “light in the end of the tunnel”, have to share limited communal space). Question to the author, if I may:
    Why was this particular study brought up? Is there, maybe, more info in the research, that is unique, and compelled you to write this post
    Thank you
    Looking forward to hear from you,
    SRS

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