• The Psychological Response of Trainees During a 16 Week Regional Policy Academy: A Needs Assessment

      Pace, Thadeus W.W.; McKenzie, Lydia Anne; Edmund, Sara J.; Bouchard, Lindsay A. (The University of Arizona., 2018)
      Purpose: The acute and chronic stress experienced by law enforcement officers begins with basic police training. Having a solid foundation of coping strategies to support resilience is one way to reduce adverse physical and mental effects of this occupation. This project focused on assessing the psychological response of police trainees as they completed basic police education in a 16-week regional police academy. The results serve to inform future education supporting coping and resilience. Background: Choosing a career in law enforcement assures frequent exposure to situations that can result in averse physiological and psychological outcomes. Exposure to intense stressors begins during basic police training in the police academy. Training in stress recognition and mitigation strategies supports resilience. Despite evidence that stress psychoeducation and coping strategies should be taught early in the career, the quality and quantity of information provide to cadets is insufficient. Methods: This quality improvement project applied a descriptive longitudinal approach utilizing self-report questionnaires administered at three time points during a 16-week police academy: baseline (0-week), 8-weeks, and 16-weeks. At baseline (0-week), a demographic questionnaire collected data on age, gender, ethnicity, marital status, educational level, and prior public safety experience. At all three time points, the Perceived Stress Scale-10 (PSS-10) was administered. Participants were admitted to the police academy, not academy faculty or administration, and had never attended all or part on any non-military police academy. Results: Statistical analysis of the demographic data and Perceived Stress Scale-10 (PSS-10) revealed that the mean stress scores in participants who completed the program (n=19) increased from baseline (0-week) to the 8-week mark, and then decreased to just above baseline (0-week) levels by the 16-week time point. In this sample, the only association between prior public safety experience and perceived stress were those with prior fire/EMS experience, who demonstrated significantly higher stress scores from baseline (0-week) to 16-weeks compared to those without fire/EMS experience. There was no association found with the other demographic variables evaluated. Conclusions: Based upon the results of this evaluation, it is recommended that stress psychoeducation and coping strategies be introduced early in the training phase for all trainees regardless of demographic characteristics, with routine practice of stress management techniques regularly throughout the 16-week academy. By providing this training in the police academy, the cadets can utilize these skills both in the training and working phase of their career, potentially reducing the adverse physical and mental effects of occupational stress.