Positive Policing and Purpose in Life

Purpose in life has been introduced as benefiting people, including law enforcement officers, to find a positive sense of purpose and personal satisfaction in their work product and in their lives. It was originally espoused by Viktor Frankl in 1946. Frankl, a physician, survived the German concentration camps and the deliberate extermination of 6 million Jews during WW-II. His wife and entire family were killed at Auschwitz and Dachau. How could he possible find purpose and meaning in life after this horrific experience. In the book Man’s Search for Meaning, first published in 1946, Victor Frankl shares the experience of seeing hundreds of people herded off to their extermination. People and members of his immediate family were horrifically gassed and sent to mass graves. Frankl’s theory holds that “there are three primary human capabilities, or, in his words, noological possibilities: self-detachment, self-transcendence, and the ability to “spiritually be in touch” with something or someone independent of spatio-temporal dimensions” according to McGann (2016) who reviewed Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning.
Officer well-being is essential for career longevity. It becomes apparent that police officers grow and remain productive in an environment of support: both within the organization and within the community in which they serve. These attributes build a sense of personal meaning and career purpose. Leo Polizoti, Ph.D.
In Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl described the daily demoralizing prisoners underwent both physically and psychologically. Survivors of the horrific images at concentration camp Auschwitz began to find meaning in their forced labor – even humor along with camaraderie. Many of us glean a significant sense of well-being from what we do personally and professionally. Most cops derive great personal meaning and purpose from the job of police officer at least for the first 3-5 years. Law enforcement officers’ derive much of their identity from the work they do on a daily basis and can experience wide ranging stress from call to call. As such, it has become well-known that police work requires special understanding of one’s community and a positive sense of personal responsibility, well-being and resilience for career success and hardiness (Polizoti, 2018).
Our tour guide at the West Bank in Israel in 2019 – Rami Nazzali found great purpose in teaching visitors about the plight of Palestinians on the West Bank and Gaza Strip – He strongly believes the plight of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and West Bank are fighting for purpose and meaning in their lives. Rami Nazzali writes for The NY Times.
Purpose in life refers to an underlying belief that what you do for work has importance and purpose on a larger scale. Moreover, to diminish oneself as a result of career embitterment runs a risk of the erosion of purpose and loss of group membership. That is when one becomes marginalized and loses his purpose and the “why” for living. Viktor Frankl believed that once gone the purpose of life and the will to live cannot be restored. Mark Dibona previously was a patrol sergeant for the Seminole County Sheriff’s office in Florida, where he supervised nine officers, but the memory of the June morning where he was called upon to resuscitate and dying infant still haunts him. “Other stressful situations include, but are not limited to: long hours; handling people’s attitudes; waiting for the next call and not knowing what the situation will be; and even politics within the department. Then, on top of it all, officers are frequently criticized, scrutinized, and investigated for decisions they make” said Michelle Beshears on the faculty at American Military University. Among police officers between seven percent and 19 percent of police officers experience symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, compared to 3.5 percent of the general population. A colleague and friend, Sergeant Mark DiBona retired from law enforcement in 2019 has had some difficult times on the job in Florida that effect him in a profound way. He is an strong advocate for law enforcement mental health and suicide prevention. “Until this day,” said Dibona, who admits to having contemplated suicide several times before he began counseling, “I can feel the warmth of that baby on my arm.” A child Mark believed he could save.

Thailand: Royal Thai police face daunting job to reform national agency

“Police suicides and police apathy are two of many issues highlighting a dire need for constructive police reforms within the Royal Thai Police for some time.” Bangkok Post October 14, 2019 The Thai National Police (TNP) are mired in politics and age-old tradition which has contributed to significant tension within the TNP ranks.

As recently as early February, 2020, an embittered Thai police officer went on a rampage in the northern province in Thailand. Over 20 persons were killed in an extremely rare display of public rage and terminal violence. The perpetrator ultimately took his own like as members of the Thai Special Forces moved in.

Dr Ronald Allanach and Dr Michael Sefton are pictured with the Northern Police District Administrator during a meeting 2 weeks before the rampage. There was no sense among the officers we met that tension and despair underlie this outwardly professional police agency. The officers we interviewed were all happy and content with their assignments. There was no sign of the frustration and vulnerability identified in the Bangkok Post report.

Dr. Ronald Allanach (left) pictured with Northern Sector Thai National police administrator and Dr. Michael Sefton in January 2020

Police reform is a problem across America and the world. In Thailand, a centralized police force is overseen by the country’s prime minister who is responsible for naming the chief general who leads the Thai National Police. This is no easy task. Some believe there are complex issues that contribute to the distress felt by police across Thailand. The investigation into the February 2020 rampage is in its early stages but links to conflict between the officer and a higher ranking administrator are being floated. A psychological autopsy would provide added facts to the “red flags” that may have lead up to the terminal event and offer substantive interventions that can reduce the growing problem in The TNP.

These include officers who are sent to distant police assignments leaving them without the normal emotional and agency supports they need. The pay is low and the trust felt by the TNP from its citizenry is inauspicious at best.

In a 2018 published paper in the Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences by Police Major Thitiwat Yachaima, similar factors affect the levels of stress in Thai police officers as that impacting cops in the United States. This includes work environment, relationship to superior officers and peers, specific work and hours of weekly service, support from family

“Today police morale and emotional health have hit rock bottom, he said, because of a number of factors, including botched policy-making when it comes to their career path that doesn’t take into consideration the officer’s needs and desires.”

Bangkok Post December, 2019

The Bangkok Post published an article about police suicide in Thailand. According to the Bangkok Post, “four police officers – based in Chumphon, Chiang Mai, Sing Buri and Kamphaeng Phet – were overwhelmed by stress and took their own lives after being transferred from their home provinces to investigation units in the other provinces.” 

More recently, police officers in Thailand have been able to request transfer to their home provinces in an effort to reduce the stress experienced by newly deployed officers and other specialists. There are over five thousand unfilled positions in the investigation units for the Thai National Police. As a result of this shortage, it requires that officers be shared among divisions across the country adding to the stress officers’ experience.

Overall, Thai police are defensive about the underpinnings of officer suicide citing “physical health and personal problems” as a primary source of the problem – not simply job assignment. National police chief Pol Gen Chakthip Chaijinda has recently come under attack from subordinates for making what appeared to be abrupt, politically motivated transfers for those who challenged his authority as he nears retirement age.

What factors need to be examined when looking to reduce police stress in general and to understand factors that are shared among law enforcement officers across societies? A study conducted in 2011 in the Journal of Nursing Science suggested that officers who have self-efficacy and respect from the communities they serve as among the factors that yield the greatest health-related behaviors and personal hardiness.