How do the rigors of police work — from traumatic sights and sounds, to long work shifts and high demand levels — affect officers? A University at Buffalo study being funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) seeks to answer that very important question.
John Violanti, research professor of epidemiology and environmental health in UB’s School of Public Health and Health Professions, is the lead investigator on the four-year, $2.5 million study, which will continue previous work Violanti, himself a former law enforcement officer, has conducted on the Buffalo Cardio-Metabolic Occupational Police Stress Study (BCOPS).
UB officials joined Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, at a news conference Monday, Aug. 24, at Buffalo Police Station, B District, 695 Main St., in Buffalo to announce the grant.
“This research will provide important insights into how the stressful demands of police work impact the long-term health of officers, giving us valuable data from which to explore ways to improve the lives of those who choose this noble profession,” said Higgins. “We commend Professor Violanti for his work in this area, a researcher who brings a unique perspective to the project as a veteran of the New York State Police force for more than 20 years.”
“This is another powerful example of the tremendous impact our faculty and intellectual resources have on the broader communities we serve,” said UB President Satish K. Tripathi. “Professor Violanti’s research has important implications for shaping law enforcement practice and policy at a national level while having the potential to improve working conditions and quality of life in the police community and beyond. This is research that can make a real difference for police officers and a large segment of the working population.”
Stress, trauma and PTSD are common in police work, noted Violanti.
“It’s not only the danger of the streets but also the psychological danger that police work brings,” he said. “Such exposures not only affect officers psychologically, but bring with them physical outcomes such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer.”
The research will assess police stress over a period of 12 years by examining measures of stress and the association of these measures with cardiovascular and metabolic diseases. Its findings will be used to provide translational information to improve prevention practices.
“On average, police officers have higher rates of stress-related diseases than does the average working person,” Violanti said. “Our NIOSH-funded study will be among the first to look at the long-term effects of stress on police health so we can develop new strategies to help officers work in a healthy and less stressful work environment.”
The impact of the study will stretch beyond the law enforcement community, said Jean Wactawski-Wende, dean of the UB School of Public Health and Health Professions.
The results of the study also will help to identify the adverse health consequences associated with stress in a large portion of the working population.
“This study will help us to understand the impact of stress associated with police work and the effects of stress on health. These findings will be relevant to other occupational groups that also experience stress as part of their daily routine,” Wactawski-Wende said. “This is an important public health issue and we are proud to have this important work being led here at the University at Buffalo by Dr. Violanti and his team.”
NIOSH has funded several other studies Violanti has led to examine the long-term effects of police work. Violanti is quite familiar with the rigors of the job. He was a member of the New York State Police for 23 years, serving as a trooper, criminal investigator and, later, as coordinator of the State Police Psychological Assistance Program.
In 2010, he received $2.7 million from NIOSH for a study examining how job stress affects police officers over time, with a goal of developing prevention programs for officers.