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The Risk is Real... Do We Care?

Statistically, I am a survivor and probably shouldn't be here... With a significantly lower average life expectancy after retirement, increased exposure to hazards, vicarious stress (and/or PTSD), shiftwork and sleep deprivation, and a higher rate of suicide, the average police officer has a much reduced life expectancy after retirement.

In one study titled, "Life Expectancy in Police Officers: A Comparison with the U.S. General Population," (Violanti, John M., et al, 2013) of white male police officers in Buffalo, NY, an officer who lived to the beginning of age 50 during the period 1950-2005 was expected to live only 7.8 additional years while a U.S. white male for the same period was expected to live an additional 35 years. In addition to all of the events where officers and deputies are experiencing threatening situations, violence, traumatic events such as attending death scenes and fatal accidents, some lower-level organizational and management/leadership factors contribute to the years of potential life lost. These include:

  • bureaucratic management styles;

  • insensitivity to personal distress;

  • unfair decision-making by managers;

  • seemingly arbitrary rules;

  • poor consultation with staff;

  • constantly shifting priorities;

  • increased workload;

  • shift work;

  • erratic work hours;

  • long periods of repetitive work; and

  • carrying out work for which officers are not adequately trained.

Another factor to consider is the higher suicide rate for law enforcement officers. The current suicide rate for law enforcement is 12 per 100,000, compared to a rate for the public of 13 per 100,000. Law enforcement officers suicide rate is much higher than the general public as a profession.

What does this mean for the average person? This means that while you are sleeping in your bed at night and police officers, sheriff deputies, troopers, rangers, and other law enforcement officers are protecting you, they are actually risking some of their future, for the greater good of society. Yes for you and me to live longer, they take the risk of dying younger so that we can live a better life. What this might mean for law enforcement leaders...Take care of your people, including looking at the way you lead and manage, because they really "pay a price" and are risking their lives...or a portion of their lives to protect others.

If you don't believe me, maybe you should "Google" police officer mortality rates, or "officer suicide rates." It doesn't take a scholar to find that policework is dangerous and the risk is real. The question then is; do we care? And if we do, what can we, society, do to show our appreciation, to acknowledge their sacrifice and years of potential life lost?


Violanti, John M., et al. "Life expectancy in police officers: a comparison with the US general population." International journal of emergency mental health 15.4 (2013): 217.

About the Author: Dr. Chris Fuzie is the author of "Because Why?...Understanding Behavior In Exigencies." and of "S.C.O.R.E. Performance Counseling: Save the Relationship, Change the Behavior," and Owner of CMF Leadership Consulting. Chris is a developer/trainer/consultant for leadership of public, private, profit, and non-profit organizations. Chris holds a Doctorate of Education (Ed.D), M.A. and B.A. in Organizational Leadership, and has graduate certificates in Human Resources and Criminal Justice Education. Chris is honorably retired from the Modesto Police Department after 28 years of public service where he last served as the Assistant Division Commander of Investigations.

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