n Acta Criminologica: Southern African Journal of Criminology - Vulnerability, trauma and coping in the line of duty

Volume 16, Issue 2
  • ISSN : 1012-8093



The popular image of a police officer is a person who is strong, skilled and invulnerable. However, in reality the police have weaknesses, lack some skills and are often vulnerable. There are at least five categories of police victimisation : Direct injury or death of an officer while on duty; being a witness to the injury or death of another officer; being a witness to the injury or death of non-officers; being exposed to extraordinary fear due to unique and extreme stressors caused by police work; and the suffering of a police officer's family and friends when he / she is seriously incapacitated or is killed in the line duty. A unique type of vulnerability, which in turn can cause a unique type of trauma and which requires a unique type of coping is the causal factor in each of these categories. Thus, the challenge for administrators is to find ways to reduce police vulnerability, lower the intensity of their trauma when victimised, and facilitate their coping so that recovery is hastened. The intent here is to offer clear and concrete solutions that can be helpful to those police officers who just face the daily threat of crime, cope with their emotions, and continue to perform their duty according to their commission and the expectations of the communities they have sworn to protect. Somewhat surprisingly, few victimologists have written about the plight of police officers (and their families) who become victims due to their exposure to high levels of risk. Thus, the challenge here is to reduce their greater vulnerability, minimise their trauma when victimized, and afterwards provide support in their efforts to cope. It is unfortunate that in this age of enlightened law enforcement management, there are still believable reports that some police supervisors perceive the officers who need psychological help as "crybabies", and thus do not understand the real dynamics of trauma suffered in the aftermath of a victimisation. For effective policing, accurate and sensitive leadership must deal with the reality of police trauma. Without it a police force is seriously handicapped and even worse, it is a significant disservice to the rank and file police officers who dedicate their time and often their lives in the line of duty.

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