Evaluation of operational stress in riot and crowd control police units: a global challenge for prevention and management of police task-related stress

Abstract: The aim of the current study was to evaluate stress levels during routine activities and during a major political event by members of the VI Reparto Mobile, an Italian specialized police unit exclusively deployed for riot and crowd control, which had undergone serious stress and liability consequences after the 2001 G8-Summit in Genoa. The investigation protocol consisted of a psychological assessment at the beginning of the study, evaluation of task-related stress with the Job Content Questionnaire (JCQ) and the Effort-Reward Imbalance questionnaire (ERI) at two time periods, and evaluation of behavioral and clinical outcomes as measured by short-term sickness absences (STSA) throughout the duration of the study. The sample consisted of 290 policemen, representing a 98.6 % participation rate. Results found that unit officers were more emotionally stable, conscientious and open to experiences than the general male population and career soldiers. JCQ and ERI decreased significantly when compared with daily and special event activities (p < 0.001). Fifty-one percent of officers took STSA during three months of routine deployment, whereas only 35.5 % took it during the 2009 G8-Summit. These results suggest that members of the specialized unit had good capacity to withstand stress. Chronic routine work might be significantly more stressful for these kinds of officers than assignment to a special high-risk political event when adequate training, positive psychosocial support and appropriate organization of the event are provided.

Keywords: Operational stress Law enforcement Riot and crowd control Sickness absence