Is the "thin blue line" eroding in America's Finest City?

Expert: Stress Partly to Blame for Police Problems

By Paul Krueger
|  Friday, May 13, 2011  |  Updated 2:00 PM PDT
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Expert: Stress Partly to Blame for Police Problems

One expert says cutbacks have added more stress to an already dangerous and very demanding job.

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San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne talks about the arrest of an officer accused of raping a woman and forcing her to perform sexual acts.
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One expert says job stress, coupled with alcohol and prescription drug abuse, is at least partly responsible for a recent spate of alleged law breaking by San Diego Police officers.

"They're well trained professionals, but they're human being first. And like all humans, they're under stress," says Clark Smith, M.D. a psychiatrist and medical director of the Sharp McDonald Center.

Smith says cutbacks in the police department budget, which have forced officers to do more with less, have added more stress to an already dangerous and very demanding job.

Plus, police officers are not immune from the financial problems facing all Americans.

Smith says police officers, by virtue of their job, have the power to intimidate and, if they lose their moral bearings, can harm others. Smith says male officers might act out on their frustrations in a sexual manner.

"There are men that may feel a loss of power and they're trying to make up for it with sexual acting out that makes them feel more powerful," Smith said.

He notes that none of the at least eight officers accused of wrong doing have been charged with financial crimes or corruption, and that several of the cases involve officers accused of DUI's or violence.

Clark says people under stress will sometimes cope by abusing alcohol or prescription drugs. But if the stress doesn't go away, the alcohol or drug abuse can lead to addiction problems, and risky, dangerous and violent behavior.

"Out-of-control with alcohol means you plan to limit yourself, but you drink more than you intended, and then you plan to control your behavior, but your behavior gets out of your control," he said.

Clark says police officers have another big challenge, because the law enforcement culture, like the military, often discourages officers from asking for help.

He thinks Chief William Lansdowne's plan to train supervisors to identify potential problem officers early on, and talk more in-depth with those officers, could be a big step in helping those officers.

"People have to have a feeling of safety to come forward and admit they have a problem,” Smith said. "Otherwise they'll never admit it until it's too late."

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