Stress e performance
Law enforcement has had a long history as a stress related profession, where burn-out is not an uncommon malady. Special operations, long term undercover and raid work are even more stressful, especially for the agent who does not understand the contributing factors, warning signs and prevention.
Stress and fear can have both positive and negative effects on human performance depending on training and conditioning. It is important in raid work, for your own safety and that of the team, that the individual maintain a high level of individual skills and personal health.
The dangers involved in raid work may be real, perceived or even imagined by the individual operator. Since stress is primarily mental, whether the fears are real or noti s immaterial. They are a significant part of the individuals thought process, and this contributes to stress.
Job related stress may be caused by: Fear of death, injury, error or just the unknown. There may be actual threats from suspects, or just perceived threats. The constant anticipation and preparation for action may be stressful. Stress could also be brought on by lack of experience and/or training.
Some of the pre-indicators may be loss of appetite, loss of sleep, increased drinking or smoking, shortness of temper, problems at home, introversion, lack of humor, etc. Directly before an operation there may be increased heart rate, the shakes sweating, chills, muscle tension, irritability, or an over compensation by loud, aggressive behavior. During the operation there will be stress induced tunnel vision, target fixation and auditory exclusion.
One of the best ways to reduce the stress involved in raid work is intense, realistic training. This will increase the team members’ knowledge of the dynamics involved, their familiarity with the required procedures and overall confidence. With knowledge, experience and confidence, based on real world scenarios, there will be less stress.
Under stress we may panici f there is no conditioned response built into our training. Or worse, an incorrect conditioned response. It is important that training stress the shooters and require that they fall back on correct conditioning/positive reinforcement.
Conditioned response is a physiological adeptation to certain situations. Also known as S.A.I.D. – Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands. This involves learning new skills, developing motor skills, improving visual acuity, developing kinetic sense, reflex and the necessary muscle memory for shooting.
The instuctor teaches new skills, imposes demands based on street experience and then helps the student adapt and overcome. When this is done correctly, the operator finds an increased level of both ability and confidence.
The two aspects of raid work that are the root of most stress related problems are: 1- Too much raid activity over a prolonged period of time, and: 2- Lack of training and preparation. First and foremost, is the need for good personal health. Whether it is physical conditioing, healthier mind and body.
The healthy individual has a raised personal self esteem, increased confidence and the feeling of being able to adapt to, or overcome, any job related problems. Second is the question of training. Realistic training will better prepare the new agent or officer for street work, and alleviate the fears associated with not understanding the dynamics or making a mistake. However, poor training, lacking in positive reinforcement, will only serve to destroy confidence and increase stress.
For the very experienced, very active, potential burn-out victim, a well designed training program will be an opportunity for him to decompress, workout tactical problemsand share his street experience with less experienced personnel. Training should be realistic and demanding, but can also be fun, challenging and productive.
Experienced agents and officers have been “sent” to STTU programs unwillingly; protesting that they have oo much work to do, don’t need the training and can’t spare the time. Afterwards, they have thanked the STTU istructors, and their own training, staff, for the opportunity to participate in some interesting and valuable team training. They leave refreshed, invigorated and ready to go “catch some more bad guys”. Taking with them a few new tactics and techniques, and more importantly, confidence in their abilities as a team.
“For as we fight – so must we train”.