When Scenes = Stress
Written by Detective Steven W. Hulsey   

Crime scene investigation requires a methodical, detail-oriented approach. The investigator undergoes stresses unlike other types of law enforcement professionals. Media, television, and film have given an unrealistic view of the people performing the investigations. The chronic pressure to perform along with the observation of tragic events over and over compound to eventually beat down even the hardest investigators.

Agencies also contribute to the stress because, often, there is an equation of Success = More work, when it should be Success = Reward. This reward is not monetary; it is a simple acknowledgment that the investigator’s attention to detail contributed to the overall success.

When a decrease in performance by investigators occurs, administrators do not always consider this may be related to the stresses of the job. Even the most seasoned investigators can succumb to the pressure associated with multiple homicides, violence, and crimes involving children. This pressure, over time, beats down the defenses of every person working in these environments on a daily basis. Higher stress occurs when the suspect is identified in the investigation and the investigator senses the demands for justice from the general public.
Meanwhile, in the face of these demands, the investigator is reminded there is no room for mistakes, or else the evidence will not reach its highest level of potential.
Stress = Action…
…And we control whether stress will result in positive action or negative action.
We must realize if this stress is not dealt with in some manner, it will manifest itself in negative ways—such as isolation, depression, substance abuse, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). We need to safeguard and ensure some simple steps are taken:
  • Release compounded feelings—Ensure there is cognitive behavior in place, so the feelings are not allowed to turn inward.
  • Following through to see the positive results of work effort—Investigators should receive acknowledgment that their finished work product assisted in a positive resolution to the investigation and overall success.
  • Crisis debriefings in officer involved shootings and high-profile cases—These types of cases come with their own unique set of stressors. Particularly difficult is constant confrontation from family members, friends, and the community demanding information from the investigators.
  • Administrative support—The administration can help during high-stress times by establishing that it’s okay to show emotion. Support can also come in the form of simple things such as hydration, food, and insuring the investigators are allowed appropriate rest breaks.
  • Admitting, owning, and accepting that mistakes happen—When mistakes happen, document them and have the support of the administration, as opposed to creating an environment with the unrealistic expectation of perfection. There is a huge difference between perfection and perfect.
  • Communication—Administrators need to provide information to investigators relating the differences between acceptable responses to stress and unacceptable responses.
  • Build a network of support—Ensure there is a support network or person to whom investigators can communicate with openly.
Once the case is concluded, and justice has been served… the media attention has faded, the chain of command has stopped the hourly questions in reference to the case… This is the time when the investigators need the most support. It is easy for seasoned investigators to perform under stressful situations and times of crisis. Sometimes it’s the down times, the slow times, that are the hardest to handle. This is when the memories, the emotions, and the pent up frustrations come to the surface.
As with any highly trained professional possessing a unique set of skills and stresses, we must have a unique system of support for these investigators. This will benefit the agency, which has already invested its time, money, and resources in its personnel. But, more importantly, a support system must be in place for the benefit, welfare, and longevity of the person performing these daunting tasks, day in and day out.

About the Author
This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it is an 18-year veteran of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, located in Fayetteville, Arkansas. He is currently assigned to work major crimes and conduct crime scene investigations. Hulsey is a member of the International Crime Scene Investigators Association (ICSIA) and is an ICSIA Certified Forensic Crime Scene Investigator. He is certified through the United States Secret Service National Computer Institute as a Basic Investigation Computers Electronic Programs (BICEP) investigator. He is also a member of the International Association for Identification.
Note: This article was provided by the International Crime Scene Investigators Association (ICSIA).
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