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The meaning that police officers make of their work: A phenomenological study of police occupational stress

Gary L Berte, University of Massachusetts Amherst


In-depth interviews were conducted with twenty police officers. The interviewing process used a phenomenological approach which focused on the meaning that police officers made of their work. "Meaning" relates to the personal interpretations and evaluations that officers make of their work experiences. The interview process consisted of three ninety-minute interviews with each participant. The first interview centered around the question, "How did you come to work as a police officer?" The second interview focused upon the question, "What is it like for you to work as a police officer?" And the third interview asked, "What does it mean to you to work as a police officer?" The interview were audio-recorded and later transcribed. After significant transcript material had been identified, it was then synthesized in two ways: first, as profiles of the participants; and second, as excerpts from the interviews which were woven together with emergent themes that connected the stressful experiences of the participants. Eighteen themes relative to occupational stress emerged from the data. Themes associated with autocratic management practices of police organizations were the most frequently perceived occupational stressors by the participants of this study. The author suggests that police work is no more stressful than other high-stress occupations, though police work seems to be very stressful because autocratic management practices intensify other stressors. Management reform seems to be an important task for the future well being of police officers. If police management styles become more democratic and supportive, there could be an across the board reduction in the negative affects of many occupational stressors. Officer health and job performance could subsequently improve. The author suggests that stress plays a critical role in the meaning that police officers make of their work. Stress has become the currency through which officers exchange meaning. Stress is the psychic Purple Heart of policing and validates an officer's experience.

Subject Area

Educational psychology|Occupational psychology|Criminology

Recommended Citation

Berte, Gary L, "The meaning that police officers make of their work: A phenomenological study of police occupational stress" (1989). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9011701.