David A. Winter
After walking out of a supermarket with his coat pockets bulging with goods, John was surprised to find himself apprehended by a store detective. Responding to her request that he empty his pockets, he produced an assortment of foodstuffs and other items, many of which he would normally have no use for.
This is a common enough situation, but what distinguishes John's story from many similar incidents is that he was a police officer. Even this, however, is not altogether uncommon. This chapter will consider, from a personal construct theory perspective, why it might be that some individuals who are charged with the responsibility of enforcing the law may on occasion act in a way which contrasts markedly with this role. More broadly, it will examine how personal construct theory may contribute to understanding and amelioration of the stress faced by police officers in the course of their work, as well as to the selection and training of police officers.
Hans Selye (1978), the pioneer of stress research, regarded policing as "one of the most hazardous professions, even exceeding the formidable stresses and strains of air traffic control" (p. 7). While it might seem self-evident that the primary stressors involved in this work are life-threatening situations, there is evidence (Lawrence, 1984) that police officers may, in fact, perceive such situations as
* Revised and expanded from Winter, D. A. (1993). Slot rattling from law enforcement to lawbreaking: A personal construct theory exploration of police stress, International Journal of Personal Construct Psychology, 6, 253-267.