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Hyper-Vigilance in Law Enforcement

Being a police officer is a challenging and demanding job that requires individuals to constantly be on high alert. This is especially true in today's society where there is a heightened awareness of potential dangers and threats.

Since the Ferguson riots in 2014-2015, the climate changed and has been taking a toll on our law enforcement community. I remember being in Ferguson and hearing the news reports and statements and realizing at that time that law enforcement was forever going to be changed. I wrote about it, I spoke about and to this day, I still speak on the subject.

I remember statements like the one made by author/activist Jesmyn Ward: “…seventeen year old, unarmed kid stalked by a grown man with a gun…”. It was comments like this that turned the hearts of America away from its responders and turned its responders into scared, underpaid shells of what they had once been.

It was like a bad dream to hear statements from reporters who stood in the middle of rioters throwing Molotov cocktails state “This is no longer a peaceful protest as the police have begun tossing tear gas canisters!” and as the Quik Trip started on fire, one reporter commented “This prayer vigil is now officially more of a protest!”

Since then, the law enforcement has been on edge.

As a result, many police officers develop hyper-vigilance, a state of being constantly on guard and overly attentive to potential risks. While this may seem like a positive trait for a police officer, it can actually be detrimental to both their mental and physical well-being. Hyper-vigilance can lead to increased anxiety, stress, and even burnout, making it difficult for officers to effectively perform their duties.

While struggling with hyper-vigilance, the officer may become more irritable and angry thus becoming a fulfilled prophecy on the street as the condition is now adding to the lack of community policing sorely needed. To overcome hyper-vigilance as a police officer, it is important to first understand the root causes of this behavior. One of the main causes is the constant exposure to traumatic and high-stress situations. In other words, the life of a cop suck to begin with and they don’t need groups of people making threats and burning their town down. They have so much to respond to and so many life and death decisions to make every day they ae not helped by a justice system that promises top prosecute law officers to the fullest extent of the law and make sure they receive the maximum jail sentence before the incident report is filed and the camera footage is viewed!

Police officers are often exposed to violence, crime, and tragedy on a daily basis WITHOUT  the assistance of protesters and activists, which can result in a heightened sense of alertness and hyper-vigilance. Additionally, the pressure to always be alert and in control can also contribute to hyper-vigilance, as officers feel the need to be constantly on guard to avoid any mistakes or errors. To combat hyper-vigilance, police officers can start by acknowledging and accepting that this behavior is a natural response to their job. It is important for officers to understand that being hyper-vigilant is not a sign of weakness, but rather a coping mechanism that has developed over time (keeping your head on a swivel). Once this is recognized, officers can then focus on implementing strategies to manage and reduce this negative hyper- vigilance. One effective strategy for overcoming hyper-vigilance is mindfulness. Mindfulness involves being fully present in the moment and paying attention to one's thoughts and feelings without judgment. By practicing mindfulness, police officers can learn to recognize when they are being overly vigilant and bring their attention back to the present. This can help to reduce anxiety and stress levels, allowing officers to perform their duties more effectively.

Another strategy is to establish a healthy work-life balance. Police officers often have demanding schedules and may find it difficult to switch off from work. However, it is important for officers to prioritize their physical and mental well-being by taking breaks, engaging in

hobbies and activities outside of work, and spending quality time with loved ones. This can help to reduce the constant state of alertness and allow officers to relax and recharge.Seeking support and talking to others can also be beneficial in overcoming hyper-vigilance. Police officers may find it helpful to speak to a therapist or counselor who specializes in working with first responders. These professionals can provide coping strategies and support to help officers manage their hyper-vigilance. Additionally, connecting with other officers who may be experiencing similar challenges can provide a sense of camaraderie and support.Hyper-vigilance is a common and understandable response for police officers, given the nature of their job. However, it is important for officers to recognize the negative impact it can have on their well-being and take steps to manage and overcome it. By practicing mindfulness, establishing a healthy work-life balance, and seeking support, police officers can learn to effectively manage their hyper-vigilance and continue to serve their communities with a clear and focused mind.


Now that we are sitting in the middle of the biggest holiday of the year, it is a good time to use positive reinforcement and positive statements to encourage our law enforcement officer. Say hello. Make sure that when you are near law enforcement that you move slowly, keep your hands in sight and smile.

Say thank you when you can. Drop a gift basket off at the station. I have found that it is an excellent lesson on appreciation when I have my kids make cards to drop off at the local station. It also has not cost me much to cover breakfast for a cop when I am sitting in the same restaurant. It takes very little time to just say thank you and to post something similar on the community Facebook page.

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