Steve Martin, a police officer of the Wichita force, shot himself on Halloween 2005. He was 44 years old when he committed suicide (Ritter, 2007). He had separated from his wife Debbie and had developed severe drinking problems. According to his wife Debbie, Steve displayed several “warning signs” clearly indicating a risk of suicide.
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Rheam (2006) confirms that job-related stress is closely associated with greater levels of difficulty in relationships with family members. His wife reported that he was unhappy and would often curse his job. On one occasion, Steve had even pointed his gun at her.
Steve displayed several critical incident stressors signs of “erratic behavior, disgust with his job, heavy drinking, a strained marriage” (Ritter, 2007, para 1). Research indicates that difficulties in relationship followed by increased use of alcohol intake and depression are all clear indicators of severe work stress (Goldfarb & Aumiller, n.d.).
According to Debbie, other officers working with him also knew of Steve’s serious problems (Ritter, 2007, para 2). However, she stated that Steve refused counseling because he was worried that if the department found out his addiction to alcohol, he would be fired from his job.
Steve’s constant association with gang units was a clear critical incident stressor. His several gang shootouts made him particularly stressed, and he hated his job. He was severely affected by a specific gang shootout in which he had found a two-year-old girl shot in the head during a shootout, an incident he could never get over (Ritter, 2007, para 20).
His wife Debbie affirmed that he could never isolate his personal life from his job, and carried back the stress of work, home. Debbie had sensed the incident stressors and tried to get counseling help for him, but he canceled appointments repeatedly for fear of being exposed to the department and losing his job, (Ritter, 2007, para 19). Steve’s vulnerability was clearly apparent.
Studies indicate that law enforcement officers (LEO’s) are seen performing their duties by hiding their vulnerabilities (Goldfarb & Aumiller, n.d.). The Phases of critical incident stress for Steve were as follows. Steve faced severe critical incident stress due to the nature of his job. These incidents began to take a toll on his health and wellness.
Steve was affected negatively by the critical incident stress for more than 30 days which is a sign of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It is obvious that Steve also suffered from critical incident amnesia when he had pointed a gun at his wife (Grossman & Siddle, 2001). His suicide is a response to the critical incident stress he faced in life which had resulted in greater alcohol intake and depression, throwing his life completely out of control.
Reports indicate that a greater percentage of officers who had had a recent breakup and were engaged in greater use of alcohol did not seek professional help in coping with the severe stress they faced at their workplace (Goldfarb & Aumiller, n.d.). Even though his wife realized and tried to get him help through counseling, he refused for fear of exposure of his drinking problem.
LEO’s with acute stress symptoms lingering for more than a month should take help to deal with the critical incident stressors. The constant stress which LEO’s face is different due to the access of guns and critical incidents which are “sudden, powerful events” eliciting strong emotional reactions (Kureczka, 1996). The nature of the job is such that it elicits stress; hence any signs of PTSD should not be ignored and must be attended to at the first instance.
Goldfarb, D. A. & Aumiller, G. S. (n.d.). 10 reasons cops are different. The Heavy Badge. Web.
Grossman, D. & Siddle, B. K. (2001). Critical incident amnesia: The physiological basis and the implication of memory loss during extreme survival stress situations. The Firearms Instructor, 31. Web.
Kureczka, A. W. (1996). Critical incident stress in law enforcement. Web.
Rheam, J. H. (2006). A comprehensive critical incident stress management (CISM). Programming a correction system: Its more than dealing with workplace violence. The American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress. Web.
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Ritter, J. (2007). Suicide rates jolt police culture. USA Today. Web.