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Are police officers ever afraid? In a time where violent confrontations between police officers and members of the public are frequently captured on someone’s cell phone, the public is becoming increasingly aware of what an altercation looks and sounds like. For me, it’s often the voices and sounds that are being communicated by both sides of the confrontation that are the most disturbing.

Historically, an emotional response to traumatic events was considered unmanly and unprofessional behaviour for police officers. Stoicism was equated with impartiality and viewed as a sign of professionalism.  Expressing emotion was also associated with mental weakness and irrationality, characteristics that called into question whether a police officer was fit to do his job.

Female Troop Parade SquareIn the RCMP, emotional management emerged as a core value early in the twentieth century. The practice was communicated to police recruits at the academy who were trained to be unresponsive when yelling and profanity were directed their way, especially during drill manoeuvers.

The emotional strength of junior police officers was assumed by RCMP commanders who viewed it as sufficient when dealing with violent crime on the street. So ingrained was this belief that the RCMP did not acknowledge the need for trauma counseling for its members after violent incidents until late in the 1980s.

Fear was and is a reality for most police officers. Although life-threatening danger is not a constant during their workday, the potential for it still exists. The fear of not returning home at the end of a shift is always in the back of a police officer’s mind.

Male and female police officers continue to adopt traditional approaches to fear when dealing with traumatic situations. Most do not like to admit to being fearful, and they are usually more apprehensive than they are willing to confess.

Fearlessness is still considered a necessary part of policing. Sometimes, however, when altercations are captured live and replayed later in the news, we can hear differently.