An examination of perceived stress levels and coping styles among rural law enforcement officers
Policing is a very stressful job. Despite the extensive body of research on police stress, the majority of studies have focused solely on officers within urban police departments. Research on stress within rural law enforcement departments is virtually non-existent even though the majority of police agencies in America serve towns and areas under 50,000 residents. This study had four main goals: (1) to examine how work-related stress affects the levels of perceived stress, anxiety, and depression for rural law enforcement officers; (2) to explore the specific stressors affecting rural law enforcement officers; (3) to investigate how rural law enforcement officers cope with work-related stress; and, (4) to study how individual officers' demographic characteristics affect their levels of perceived stress, as well as their coping styles. An adaptation of the Law Enforcement Work-Assessment (LEWA) Survey, developed by Dr. Yolanda Scott in 2002, was selected for use in this research study. An initial random sample of 27 municipalities and 27 counties with less than 50,000 residents was selected. The final sample consisted of 21 police agencies and 320 respondents. The results from these analyses indicated that rural law enforcement officers in the sample reported that policing is a moderately high stressful occupation. Factor analysis identified six related-stress factors: work-itself stressors, organizational stressors, community stressors, interpersonal-contact stressors, levels of anxiety and depression, social coping, and isolative coping. The first regression model indicated that work-itself stressors, organizational stressors, work-itself stressors, levels of anxiety and depression, and race were significant predictors of the dependent variable, levels of perceived stress. The second regression model indicated that the demographic years in law enforcement, race, and gender were predictors of the dependent variable, social coping. The third regression indicated that organizational stressors, inter-personal contact stressors, and levels of anxiety and depression were significant predictors of the dependent variable, isolative coping. Finally, results from the qualitative analysis confirmed that stressors related to the organization were the primary source of stress for rural law enforcement officers in the sample.