Gendering of stress

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After reading the article “Controlled Burn: The Gendering of Stress and Burnout in Modern Policing” by Kurtz, focus on the results of this article and discuss:

  • Do you understand the results? Why or why not?
  • What recommendations do you have for presenting the results of this research so that a police executive could use them?

400 words

218 Feminist Criminology

Kurtz / The Gendering of Stress and Burnout in Modern Policing 217

Feminist Criminology

Volume 3 Number 3

July 2008 216-238

© 2008 Sage Publications


hosted at

Controlled Burn

The Gendering of Stress and Burnout in

Modern Policing

Don L. Kurtz

Kansas State University

Despite the interest in the interplay between subcultural attitudes, organizational structure, and high stress events, most research on police stress fails to address a fundamental concern—that of gender. In fact, the majority of research addressing officer stress fails to mention gender or concentrates on gender as a simple control variable. Data from the Police Stress and Domestic Violence in Police Families in Baltimore, Maryland, 1997-1999 study were analyzed to examine how gender affects stress and burnout in law enforcement. Findings indicate that stress and burnout by officers is embedded in the gender structure and process of policing and not simply a response to high stress events.


policing; stress; burnout; masculinity; gender and policing; social construction of gender; gendered organization theory


significant body of research contends that policing is one of the most stressful professions in American society (Anderson, Litzenberger, & Plecas, 2002; Harpold & Feenster, 2002; Howard, Howard Donofrio, & Boles, 2004; Liberman et al., 2002; Lott, 1995). Officer stress is associated with a number of negative behaviors and psychological outcomes, including high rates of substance abuse, divorce, suicide, and violence (Harpold & Feenster, 2002; Lott, 1995; Violanti, 1996). Attempts to deal with officer stress and burnout generally focus on psychological, physical, or psychiatric responses to critical incidents or high stress work environments (Anderson et al., 2002; Brooks & Piquero, 1998; Liberman et al., 2002; Loo, 2004; Mashburn, 1993; Purpura, 2001). Some scholars identify a subculture of policing through which selected behaviors and attitudes influence officers’ reactions to organizational and job related stress (Harpold & Feenster, 2002; Purpura, 2001). Despite interest in the interplay among subcultural attitudes, organizational

Author’s Note: I would like to thank the Division of Women and Crime graduate student paper reviewers and committee for awarding an earlier version of this article honorable mention in 2005. I would also like to acknowledge the theoretical and practical guidance of Dr. L. Susan Williams and Dr. Dana Britton for the foundations of this article. Finally, I want to thank the editor and anonymous reviewers of Feminist Criminology for suggestions and criticisms that greatly improved the final version of this article. Please address correspondence to Don L. Kurtz, PhD, Department of Sociology,Anthropology, and Social Work, Kansas State University, 204 Waters Hall, Manhattan, KS 66506-4003; e-mail: [email protected]. 216

structure and high stress events, most research addressing officer stress fails to incorporate gender issues. This research extends the current literature by addressing a fundamental question: How does gender shape police stress and burnout?

Literature Review

Officer Stress and Burnout

A number of factors directly associated with law enforcement are identified as sources of stress and burnout, including the nature of the job requirements, police organizational structure, and interactions with the public (Anderson et al., 2002; Harpold & Feenster, 2002; He, Zhao, & Archbold, 2002; Liberman et al., 2002). These areas are not mutually exclusive factors, and stress in one area likely aggravates anxiety in another (He et al., 2002).

Police Stress and Burnout

Research supports the idea that stress leads to a number of problems for both the individual employed in law enforcement and the policing agency as a whole (Anderson et al., 2002). A number of social scientists have drawn connections between stress and problems with health related issues including increased anxiety and alcohol use, hypertension, insomnia, migraine headaches, and heart disease (Harpold & Feenster, 2002; He et al., 2002; Liberman et al., 2002). Stress also results in bio-physical responses such as elevated heart rate, increased blood pressure, increased muscle tension, increased acid secretion (Anderson et al., 2002), and psychological concerns like burnout and fatigue (Harpold & Feenster, 2002). These responses may vary according to the officer’s assessment of the situational demands and his or her ability to deal with the circumstances (Anderson et al., 2002).

Some research asserts that acute responses to stressful events, generally, are associated with critical incidents (Anderson et al., 2002; Liberman et al., 2002), which are situations when an officer witnesses or is confronted with the potential for serious injury or death (Liberman et. al., 2002). Several work environment stressors are identified in the literature as critical incidents including shooting somebody in the line of duty, making a violent arrest, responding to a gruesome crime scene, or dealing with fatal accidents (He et al., 2002). Although police officers frequently face hostile citizens, life-threatening events rarely occur in policing (Hart, Wearing, & Headey, 1993). In fact, some research finds that danger is not a significant cause of daily stress among police officers (Hart et al., 1993); however, critical incident stress also may occur when officers perceive stress-inducing events as situations that are beyond their immediate control (Anderson et al., 2002).

Whereas critical incidents can result in acute psychosocial stress that may cause any number of short-term behavioral or psychological difficulties, chronic stress builds over time and frequently is related to the work environment, the nature of interpersonal relationships, issues associated with organizational structures, and stressors inherent to the job requirements of policing (Anderson et al., 2002; He et al., 2002; Liberman et al., 2002; Weber & Leeper, 1998). Nonviolent work-related stressors include, shift work, overtime, negative time management, paperwork, and physical requirements such as walking patrols and carrying heavy equipment. Problems of this type are more likely to compound and create chronic stress. Chronic stress may not immediately overwhelm the officer’s coping ability, but over time it can result in negative consequences or overpower stress management skills (Anderson et al., 2002).

One consequence of chronic stress is the psychological concept known as burnout. Although burnout and stress represent connected psychological concepts, some important distinctions are noted. Currently in the police stress literature, no universal term exists to describe stress or burnout (Liberman et al., 2002; Loo, 2004). Frequently, researchers conceive of stress as the reaction or response to negative or emotionally challenging stimuli (Liberman et al., 2002). On the other hand, burnout can represent the cumulative influence of long-term stress and includes aspects of emotional exhaustion and depersonalization (Loo, 2004).

Several aspects of police organizations are identified as sources of elevated stress and burnout. These factors include frustration with the criminal justice system, departmental politics and lack of departmental support, concerns with the promotional process, poor training (Anderson et al., 2002), and the bureaucratic nature of law enforcement (He et al., 2002). The size of the law enforcement agency may also influence the potential for stress and burnout. Most research on stress and burnout focuses on larger departments located in urban centers (Brooks & Piquero, 1998). Patrol officers from large departments generally have greater stress across a number of variables including organizational structure, administrative arenas, public demands, fear of danger, and interactions with other areas of the criminal justice system (Brooks & Piquero, 1998).

Interpersonal relationships also have a significant influence on the development of stress and burnout. Interpersonal relationships refer to both personal relationships, like friends and family, and job-related relationships, such as patrol partners or shift supervisors. Family responsibilities may both enhance and mediate stress for officers depending on the nature of the interpersonal relationships. For example, some research shows that family support reduces stress for men/husbands (He et al., 2002). Work requirements, however, may directly conflict with obligations at home creating stress in both environments (Howard et al., 2004). Stress generated from conflicts between work and home also may exacerbate work-related pressures. Work–family conflicts can reduce job satisfaction and increase emotional exhaustion and burnout. This relationship may be more pronounced for female officers who are expected to maintain domestic roles as mothers, wives, and caregivers; however, this issue has not been the target of much empirical evaluation (He et al., 2002).

Peers also are an important source of interpersonal support for police officers and provide context for understanding police behaviors (Brooks & Piquero, 1998; Violanti, 1997). Shared work experiences allow officers to develop a mutual understanding of work stressors that can serve as a protective factor in terms of stress and burnout, although a significant amount of research has established that police peer relations also may become a source of hostility, stress, discrimination, and cynicism (Brown, 1998; Harpold & Feenster, 2002; S. Martin, 1994; Miller, Forest, & Jurik, 2003). As such, these relationships may indirectly increase rather than decrease levels of stress and burnout.

Finally, the research suggests that a number of demographic variables are related to stress and burnout among police officers. These factors include age, officer rank, and length of service (Lennings, 1997). Some research finds a positive relationship between an officer’s age and increased stress levels (Brooks & Piquero, 1998; Lennings, 1997). Many police managers with higher rank also struggle with burnout and stress (Loo, 2004). Another demographic variable linked to stress is years of service which appears to demonstrate a curvilinear effect. Officers in their first few years of service and those close to retirement have the lowest levels of stress, whereas officers in the middle years of employment appear to have elevated stress (Brooks & Piquero, 1998; Lennings, 1997). There is also a limited body of research indicating that men and women in law enforcement may experience and manage stress differently (He et al., 2002). For example, Loo (2004) found stress on male officers generates only moderate levels of burnout, whereas female officers show higher levels. Garcia (2003) found that perception of gender roles attached to different job task also influences the level of stress for women officers.

The current study will examine several distinct conceptual sources of officer stress and burnout including stressors related to work requirements, organizational structures, and interpersonal relationships. It also extends the current literature by addressing a fundamental question: How does gender influence reactions to stress and burnout? Gendered organization theory, the concept of hegemonic masculinity, the social construction of gender, and ideas about the intersectionality of race and gender are used to explore this question.

Gendered Organization

The gendered organization framework provides a theory that extends beyond some of the limitations in the current police stress literature. Acker (1990) argues that the gendering of organizations occurs along five interactive and interconnected processes. The first component is a division of labor by gender. Quite simply, this means that men and women perform different tasks within an organization. The second factor is the creation of images that account for, oppose, or reinforce cultural ideas about gender. The third process explores how gender guides social interactions among people within an organization. The fourth component examines how gendered activities shape individual identities in an organization. The last factor deals with the ways in which gender frames social and organizational structures and becomes a vital aspect of how individuals understand the practices and perceptions that dominate organizational culture (Acker, 1990; Britton, 2003). Because of data limitations, the current research will focus on two areas of gendered organizations— gendered images and interactions. A detailed explanation of the proxy variables is available in the Method section.

Hegemonic Masculinity

Connell’s concept of hegemonic masculinity and emphasized femininity also is important to the current research. Hegemonic masculinity refers to the idea that men dominate women on a global level, and this notion explains differentiation between men and women. In fact, hegemonic masculinity not only establishes the gender relations between men and women but also among men because hegemonic masculinity establishes a dominant idea of what it means to be a man and all other conceptions are constructed as something other than masculine. Hegemonic masculinity generally is not maintained by force, although both physical and economic force can be used to bolster the masculine dominance of society (Connell,1987).

The relevancy of hegemonic masculinity to policing is evident in several ways. Policing is clearly a profession with an organizational structure that supports hegemonic masculinity; women, homosexuals, and nonmasculine traits are often shunned in law enforcement. Characteristics that have been traditionally associated with a good police officer—fearlessness, heroic demeanor, physical and emotional strength, assertiveness, and intelligence (Darien, 2002; Moore, 1999)—are features of hegemonic masculinity. Policing also directly involves the use of violence and force as a means to maintain social order; consequently, policing helps reinforce hegemonic masculinity, for example, by enforcing laws that limit other forms of masculinity, such as laws that target the gay community or make certain sexual practices illegal (i.e. homosexuality, sodomy).

Recent work on hegemonic masculinity by Connell and Messerschmidt (2005) describes the complexity associated with masculinity and notes that different constructions of masculinity may operate on different levels. In particular, the authors formulate research oriented hierarchies of hegemonic masculinity that include local, regional, and global arenas. Locally constructed masculinity may develop in direct interactions found in face-to-face contact, organizational contexts, and community relations. Regionally constructed masculinity operates more prevalently on the level of culture and nation. Finally, globally constructed hegemonic masculinity is assembled within world politics and media.

Localized differences in hegemonic masculinity among police officers may reflect the nature of police organizational practices, interactions in local police agencies, and the nature of crime and stress attributed to local communities whereas regional and global influences of hegemonic masculinity in policing may vary. For example, the same masculine perception of police officers in Texas may not be present in officers in New York. Similarly, the ways in which masculinity are demonstrated in policing in the United States may not be present in officers in other parts of the world; however, some consistent conceptions of hegemonic masculinity related to law enforcement permeate all three of Connell and Messerschmidt’s levels of analysis. For example, law enforcement officers throughout the world have a relationship to state sponsored use of violence that could reinforce conceptions of hegemonic masculinity.

Community-level aspects of hegemonic masculinity provide a rich context for understanding the problem of stress and burnout. Community differences influence law enforcement agencies in a number of ways. First, police organizations primarily recruit new officers from their local community; therefore, localized aspects of the community extend directly into organizational culture. Second, the size of the community likely influences organizational structure, size, and specialization of departments. Third, communities influence the daily behavior of officers through local standards of behavior (Liederbach & Frank, 2006).

Although local context influences the conception of police masculinity, some similar traits also should be observed at the regional level. For example, research demonstrates that police officers, as a rule, reject alternative forms of masculinity, specifically gay masculinity (Miller et al., 2003), which is associated with (or assumed to represent) femininity. Power and physical aggression are associated with hegemonic masculinity and therefore incompatible with emphasized femininity (Connell, 1987). The association between hegemonic masculinity and policing leaves little room for feminine traits in the daily activity of law enforcement officers and limits the possible response patterns officers can select when faced with stress and burnout.

Social Construction of Gender

The final concept relevant to this article is the idea of doing gender as developed by West and Zimmerman (1987). Doing gender involves creating perceived differences between what is considered masculine and feminine and then using these differences to justify gender as essential or biologically linked. This process is not necessarily a conscious decision by the actors. Doing gender involves organizing activities in a way that conveys gender and perceiving the actions of others as related to gender (West & Zimmerman, 1987). In this theoretical framework, gender is no longer a static social category, but a process used to reinforce the concept of masculine and feminine traits. Gender becomes an accomplishment and not an inherent property of an individual. Through the doing gender process, particular behaviors, pursuits, social interactions, and social–psychological perceptions become associated with a natural understanding of what is masculine or feminine (West & Zimmerman, 1987). This creates situations in which behaviors are deemed as part of gender.

This situational practice of doing of gender also extends to work related stress and definitions of responses as masculine or feminine. In law enforcement, this situated doing involves expectations of how officers respond to the daily hassles and/or the unique situations of policing. Officers are required by both the public and other officers to react in ways consistent with the image of policing. In policing, a profession highly associated with masculine ideals, doing police masculinity may involve expressing a number of behaviors that enhance gender specific displays. Violence, the use of force, controlling conduct, assertiveness, self-reliance, and other behaviors associated with a good police officer are also associated with accomplishing masculinity. Doing police masculinity and performing police activities are interconnected and mutually reinforcing behaviors that enhance common sense assumptions about police officers and the occupation’s connection to masculinity.

Intersections of Race and Gender

Although this research primarily focuses on aspects of gender in police work environments, race remains a theoretical and methodological consideration as well. Some research indicates that both gender and race affect officer assignments, general behavior patterns in police organizations, and perceptions of treatment by peers (Dodge & Pogrebin, 2001; S. Martin, 1994). Currently, some scholars are attending to the interactive nature of race, class, gender, and sexual orientation (BurgessProctor, 2006; Barak, Flavin, & Leighton, 2007). For example, S. Martin’s comprehensive research of five police agencies found that race, class, and gender guide organizational behavior, gender interactions, and officer conduct. The interactions between men and women, between women, and between Black and White individuals aligned with the historical context of policing as both White and male. Race also played a significant role in the gendering process. Men either reified White women as objects of sexual desire or glorified secretaries. White male officers viewed Black women as a source of labor (S. Martin, 1994). Similarly, Dodge and Pogrebin (2001) used the intersection approach to their qualitative study of police professional relationships, finding that the intersections of race and gender shaped perceptions of the officers. The researchers found that masculine norms in police organizations heightened the marginalization of both women and other minorities. The authors state, “The exclusion of black women is apparent in their relationships with fellow officers; black and white, male and female” (p. 559).

The current research explores the relationship between gender, stress, and burnout. Building from theories that focus on gender, this research examines the relationship between gender and police psychological and behavioral outcomes to determine some of the ways that hegemonic masculinity and the process of doing gender contributes to police stress and burnout. It also explores the intersections of race and gender to evaluate their impact on stress and burnout.


The data from this study come from an existing data source: The Police Stress and

Domestic Violence in Police Families in Baltimore, Maryland 1997-19991 (Gershon, 2000). This study contained a 5-page questionnaire that assessed officer stressors, negative health outcomes, current stress levels, level of support, and use of violence by police officers.


The survey was distributed to officers of the Baltimore Police Department during roll calls for all shifts in all nine of Baltimore’s precincts and their headquarters. At the time of the survey, the Baltimore Police Department had slightly more than 2,500 sworn officers; approximately 1,200 surveys were distributed and 1,104 officers (92%) completed the questionnaire.


For the purposes of this project, several sets of variables from the survey were used including demographic characteristics, nature of interpersonal relationships, work related events, psychological and physiological responses to stress, level of burnout, and perceptions related to gender dynamics. Comparative cross tabulations and quantitative analysis are employed with these variable groupings. All missing data for each variable were coded as missing and the case was excluded in regression analysis. The data set had very few missing cases and the valid numbers are included as a note in each regression table.

The specific demographic variables included in these analyses are sex, race, educational level, and marital status. For quantitative analysis, dummy variables represent each demographic category. To explore differences along the intersections of race and gender in nongender spilt models, race and sex categories were combined to create four groups: African American females, African American males, White females, and White males. Dummy variables were also created to assess marital status and college education. Officer reporting that they are currently married are coded as one with all other responses coded as zero. Similarly, officer with at least a college degree are coded as one (1) with all other groups coded as zero (0). The description of the sample reported in Table 1 also includes simple frequency distribution information on the rank of officers within this sample.

Several dummy variables measured support by family and administrative officials. A measure of family support was coded as one (1) for officers who agree or strongly agree with the following statement: “I feel that I can rely on support from my family.” Officers who remained neutral or disagreed were coded as zero (0). Support of administration was coded as one (1) for officers who agree or strongly Table 1

Characteristics of Survey Respondents




African American women



White women



African American men



White men



Martial status




Live-in partner






















Lieutenant or above



Level of education

High school



Some college



College degree



Graduate school



agree that “The administration supports officer who are in trouble.” Officers disagreeing with this statement were coded as zero (0).

Dummy variables also measured officer responses to critical events. Respondents were asked if they were “emotionally” affected or fearful of work-related stressful events. The events included making a violent arrest, shooting someone in the line of duty, knowing the victim or perpetrator of a crime, and being the subject of an internal affairs investigation. The variable was coded as one (1) for participants who answered “Very much,” and zero (0) for those answering “a little” or “not at all.”

The acceptability of women in law enforcement was measured by creating dummy variables from responses to two statements: (a) Gender-related jokes are often made and (b) The department is lenient in enforcing rules for female officers. Variables were coded as one (1) for those respondents who agreed or strongly agreed and zero (0) for respondents who were neutral, disagreed, or strongly disagreed with these statements.2 The first variable served as a proxy variable for aspects of gender interaction in the workplace and the second provided a proxy for the image of women in law enforcement agencies.

The questionnaire used several Likert scales that address elements of stress. Respondents were asked if they experienced the following 7 signs of psychological stress in the past 6 months: restlessness, feeling hopeless, panic attacks, irritability, withdrawal, depression, and emotional depletion. The physiological portion of this index used five questions assessing whether respondents had experienced nausea, trouble getting their breath, a lump in the throat, pains or pounding in the chest, and faintness or dizziness in the 6 months prior to the survey. A 4-point Likert scale with possible answers ranging from never to always was used. Many of these items measured the same latent traits, and for the purposes of quantitative analysis, they were combined into a single item measuring both physical and psychological stress. The index scores ranged from 12 to 48 (α= .82).

The burnout index was constructed by combining responses to the following three questions: I feel like I am on automatic pilot most times, I feel burned out from my job, and I feel like I’m at the end of the rope. The possible responses ranged from strongly disagree to strongly agree. The range on this index was from 3 to 15 (α= .78).


Table 1 displays general characteristics of the survey respondents. The vast majority of respondents in the sample were White male (n = 643), constituting 58% of the sample. The next largest group was African American males (n = 253) who represented about 23% of the sample population. Not surprisingly, women represented the lowest proportion of survey participants. About 14% of the sample were women; 9% (n = 102) were African American and 5% were White (n = 51). The sample also included a small number of Hispanic males (n = 14) and 24 individuals selected other as a race category. Unknown participants (n = 10) were coded as 9 and excluded in all regression analysis.

Patrol officers and patrol officers trainees represented the majority of respondents (n = 692) and made up 62% of the sample, whereas 5% of the participants were highranking officers holding the rank of lieutenant or higher (n = 59). Officers also help various other positions within the department including detective (n = 144), sergeant (n = 143), and agent (n = 62). The sample had only 4 missing cases. Nearly 60% of the sample was married with an additional 8% having a live-in partner. Roughly 12% of those sampled were divorced or separated and slightly more than 19% were single. In keeping with the movement to professionalize law enforcement, the vast majority of officers in this study had some college education (85%) and more than a quarter of respondents held a college degree. In this sample, education level was similar for both genders; roughly, 28% of female officers held a college degree compared with 26% of the males.

The rank and job distribution of officers in the Baltimore Police Department at the time of the survey reflects the fact that few women advance beyond simple patrol duties in modern law enforcement (Schulz, 1995). Only 4 of the 59 survey respondents who held the office of lieutenant or above are women, and 14 female respondents held the position of sergeant. This means that roughly 2% of the women completing the survey held positions of sergeant or greater. The males in the survey appeared to have better avenues for advancement within the organization. Nearly one in five male officers (19.5%) in the survey holds the position of sergeant or greater. Given the small number of female offices with rank in the sample, this variable had to be excluded from the regression analyses.

The survey contained multiple questions about sources of support and stress in law enforcement. Approximately 2% of (n = 23) officers within the sample agreed that the department supports officers in trouble. On the other hand, nearly 41% feel they have support from their family members. Nearly one in five officers reports some emotional concern with making a violent arrest; however, shooting someone in the line of duty was disconcerting to only 8% of the sample. Knowing the victim or offender of a criminal incident was regarded as a concern for 16% of the officers. Finally, the greatest emotional stressor in this sample was being the subject of an internal investigation with nearly 34% of the sample reporting concern about this stressor.

The gender proxy variables displayed divergent response patterns based on the race and gender of the respondent. White women were most likely to report that gender-related jokes were common in the work environment; 51% agreed that such jokes were repeatedly made within the department. African American women represented the second largest percentage; more than one in three African American women (36%) agreed with this statement. Roughly 29% of the African American men agreed that gender-related jokes are commonplace. White males were statistically the least likely to believe that gender-related jokes were common and about one in four (24%) of these respondents agreed with the statement. Similarly, more than half (55%) of White males believe that the department is more lenient toward female officers as opposed to 28% of African American males, 8% of the White females, and 1% of African American women.

To better understand the complex relationship between stressful situations and gender dynamics, the current study used several regression models. The first regression model treated officer stress as a dependent variable.3 The results are shown in Table 2. Several demographic variables reached statistical significance. African American and White women showed slightly elevated rates of stress, whereas African American males demonstrated reduced levels of stress compared with White men. Two background variables exerted significant influence on psychophysical stress. High levels of family support (b =−1.320) or a college education (b =−.825) reduced stress scores.

This regression model also affirmed much of the traditional literature linking work-related critical incidents to stress. Concerns about making a violent arrest (b = .945), being the target of an investigation (b = 2.509), and personally knowing the victim or offender (b = 1.839) of a criminal investigation increased the level of psychophysical stress. Administrative support, fear of shooting somebody on the job, and responding to a bloody crime scene were not statistically significant in this model.

Table 2 Ordinary Least Squares Regressions for Officer Stress and Burnout



Stress Model



Burnout Model




African American women







White women







African American men







College degree







Administrative support







Family support







Violent arrest





















Know victim/offender







Bloody crime







Gender jokes







Lenient perception











Note: SE = standard error. White males serve as the reference category for all spilt models. Stress model n = 1,051 and burnout n = 1,034. *p < .05; **p < .01; ***p < .001.

The proxy variables for gendered interactions and perception of leniency toward women in law enforcement were significantly related to stress. The prevalence of gender-related jokes (b = .567) and the belief that the department was lenient on women (b = .602) were associated with increased stress, even when controlling for traditional predictors. In fact, the beta weights of these two variables were the second and fifth strongest in the model.

Table 2 also displays the second regression equation dealing with officer burnout. This analysis supports a relationship between stress and burnout and provides evidence of the influence of gendered behavior on burnout. Several independent variables in this regression model affected the variance in burnout scores. Interestingly, being an African American man was associated with a higher likelihood of experiencing burnout, but this relationship was not statistically significant for African American women or White women. None of the work-related events remained significant in the burnout equation, although all these variables were indirectly related to burnout because they increased stress, which was included as an independent variable in this model. The stress index had a positive and strong correlation with burnout (b = .246). In each of these regression equations family support had a negative relationship with stress and burnout indicating that, among this sample, high family support mediated stress and burnout. In accordance with the theoretical Table 3

Ordinary Least Squares Regression Analysis for Stress by Gender










Significant Z

African American








College degree








Administrative support








Family support








Violent arrest
























Know victim/offender








Bloody crime








Gender jokes








Lenient perception








Adjusted R2 = .210, F < .001

Adjusted R2 = .162, F < .001

Note: SE = standard error. Men regression n = 903 and women regression n = 148.

*p < .05. **p < .01. ***p < .001.

orientation of this article, variables measuring gendered jokes and perception of leniency were statistically significant and had a positive relationship with burnout, even after controlling for other relevant factors, including stress.

The theoretical framing of this study suggests that experiences of police officers are qualitatively different for women and men and Table 3 reports gender split regression models. The R2 statistic is slightly weaker for women (.162) than for men (.210), and there were some variations in the models. African Americans and those holding a college degree reported less stress among men. These variables were not statistically significant in the model for female officers. Men with lower levels of family support demonstrated significant increases in stress; however, this variable was not significant for women. Work-related events displayed some variation as well. For men, emotional concern over knowing a victim or offender was statistically significant. For women, these variables were not significantly correlated with stress; instead concern for making a violent arrest was significantly associated with increased stress. The strongest variable in both models was being the subject of an investigation by the department, indicating internal investigations were a noteworthy source of stress for both men and women. To test for interaction effects between gender and stress and burnout outcomes, separate regression models are used for male and female officers, calculating Z values to determine if the regression coefficients differ significantly across these categories.4 Calculated Z values indicate no group differences among work related events between the stress models.

Table 4

Ordinary Least Squares Regression Analysis for Officer Burnout by Gender










Significant Z

African American








College degree








Administrative support








Family support








Violent arrest
























Know victim/offender








Bloody crime








Gender jokes








Lenient perception
















Adjusted R2 = .362, F < .001

Adjusted R2 = .353, F < .001

Note: Men regression n = 887 and women regression n = 147.

*p < .05. **p < .01. ***p < .001.

The gender-related questions were linked to greater levels of stress for both women and men officers. For women, the presence of gender-related jokes significantly affected stress levels, but the perception of leniency for female officers did not have an effect. For men, both gendered jokes and the perception of leniency toward women were associated with increases in stress. The Z value for the leniency perception variable is statistically significant, indicating 95% confidence that the observed difference between men and women was not due to chance.

Similarly, separate regression models were used for male and female officers to evaluate burnout. Table 4 reports these results. For females the R2 statistic is slightly lower (.353) than the model for males (.362). Stress strongly correlated with burnout among both female and male officers and beta weights indicated that it was the strongest variable for both groups. Similarly, the lack of family support resulted in increased levels of officer burnout for both men and women. The significance of work-related events was minimal in both models, however, there were differences based on gender. Men who were concerned about making violent arrests experienced increased levels of burnout. Women who were concerned about being the subject of an internal investigation experienced increased burnout. This is also the only work-related variable that had a significant Z value, indicating this observed difference is not due to chance. Both gender-related questions were linked to greater levels of burnout for male officers, but neither variables affected levels of burnout for women.


A number of factors directly associated with law enforcement have been identified as sources of stress and burnout including job requirements, making violent arrests, police internal investigations, and interactions with the public. The current research not only regenerated prior findings connecting police work events with stress and burnout in regression models, but also indicated that new and often neglected variables, including those related to gender, were important to understanding both stress and burnout.

The findings provide some evidence of demographic differences related to stress and burnout. In the split gender model, male officers with college degrees were less apt to evidence stress than officers without an education. This finding is not entirely clear nor is it evident why this finding held true for men and not women. Given the importance of the gender variables in this study, perhaps there was an interaction affect between education and beliefs about women in policing. It is possible that higher education results in more limited endorsement of gender prejudice, especially for men, which in turn impacts stress levels. In other words, perhaps higher education challenges men’s prejudices about women in the workplace and general sexist attitudes, which, in turn, makes it more stressful when entering an occupation where these attitudes are commonplace. Similarly, perhaps the hegemonic masculinity evident in policing makes it difficult (e.g. stressful) for more enlightened/educated men to confront the sexist behavior and/or treatment of their fellow female workers.

There were indications that race and gender intersect in interesting ways. Women, both White and African American, reported higher levels of stress than White men; however, African American men indicated lower levels of stress than White men. Although it is not surprising that women experience more stress than men given the gendered nature of the organization and the reports of hostile work environments in many police departments, it is not clear why African American men reported lower levels of stress than White men. These findings are even more intriguing when coupled with the effects of race and gender on burnout. There are no apparent effects of race and gender on burnout, with one exception. African American men, though experiencing lower rates of stress, exhibit higher levels of burnout than White men. Additional research, especially qualitative studies, should be explored to help flush out these findings in more detail. Perhaps African American men are better than White men and women at mitigating stress (e.g., they have better coping strategies), but it takes its toll over time resulting in burnout when it finally manifests itself.

Findings also indicated that family support tended to mediate the effects of stress and burnout in some instances, whereas administrative support rarely was as effective. Consistent with prior research (He et al., 2002), men who experienced family support had reduced levels of stress; although, there was no significant relationship between these variables for women. It must be noted that men were more likely to be married than women in the current sample, which could account for this difference; 64% of the male officers reported they were married whereas only 36% of the women were married. Family support, however, was significantly associated with reduced burnout for both men and women. Intuitively, it makes sense that family support helps mediate stress and burnout associated with job related demands. Interestingly, however, administrative support was not significantly related to stress or burnout for men or to stress for women. The bureaucratic nature of law enforcement agencies may reduce the ability of single administrators to reduce stress among field officers. Particular concerns of police bureaucracy include the impersonal nature of the bureaucracy, distant chain of command, and lack of input into workplace rules (He et al., 2002). Officers frequently believe that their patrol decisions lack support by the departmental administration, which is compounded by the fact that many officers believe the public does not support their efforts (Kop & Euwema, 2001).

Perhaps the bureaucratic nature of the workplace makes it hard for administrators to mediate stress, regardless of gender. In contrast, however, administrative support may relate to burnout and help retain female officers in a hostile environment, thereby reducing burnout. Police organizations nationally have had limited support in increasing the number of women in the field (Garcia, 2003) and even when agencies are able to recruit women, they often cannot retain them (Garcia, 2003; Lonsway et al., 2002). Additionally, women are more apt than men to report that the administration treats them differently based on their gender (Sousa & Gauthier, 2008). Although the current study cannot document the type of administrative support, it is logical to assume that when agencies refuse to tolerate sexist behavior in the workplace, women perceive this behavior as administrative support, thereby reducing burnout for women.

Gender spilt models also indicated some differences with regards to traditional stressors in the literature (Anderson et al., 2002; Brooks & Piquero, 1998; Liberman et al., 2002; Loo, 2004; Mashburn, 1993; Purpura, 2001). Men who were concerned about knowing victims and offenders reported increased levels of stress. For women, concern over making a violent arrest resulted in increased stress. For both men and women, being the subject of investigations produced increased stress. Cleary, being the subject of an internal investigation would be a stressful event for an officer given the scrutiny given to officers under review and the potential for disciplinary action. In particular, prior research demonstrates that officers believe that administrators have unrealistic views of ways to manage problems in field situations, which subjects patrol officers to undue scrutiny (He et al., 2002; Kop & Euwema, 2001). It is less clear why knowing offenders and victims would produce stress for men. Perhaps knowing people involved in committing or experiencing criminal acts/violations makes it harder for male police officers to maintain hegemonic masculinity. They may be more tempted to show a softer, caring (e.g., feminine) side when they know the actors involved, and this may create both cognitive dissonance and stress when male officers attempt to maintain a detached (e.g., masculine) persona.

It should not be totally surprising that confronting violent offenders produces stress for female officers given the continued gender division of labor in law enforcement. Gender-specific behavior in law enforcement frequently involves assigning certain tasks to women. For example, women are frequently pulled from patrol duties and forced to deal with incidents involving women or children (Brown, 1998). Some existing research reports that women often are given less opportunities to confront physically violent offenders because of exclusion from certain assignments (Sousa & Gauthier, 2008) and therefore may lack confidence when it comes to dealing with these events. As such, this type of situation may produce more stress for women who may be smaller in stature and who may have less experience dealing with physical and/or violent individuals.

Only a few work factors similarly affected levels of burnout when controlling for gender-related effects. For men, the emotional toll of making a violent arrest increased the likelihood of burnout and it was the only work-related variable that was significant. Here again, this finding may be linked to the hegemonic masculinity associated with policing. Clearly, repeatedly dealing with violence has an impact on individuals. Perhaps men suppress these feelings and therefore experience burnout at higher levels. It is also possible that women actually deal with fewer violent incidents, in part because of paternalistic practices that prevent women from having as much experience dealing with violence, and therefore experience less burnout.

It is also possible that women deal with these experiences better because the social construction of femininity allows them to be upset and/or vulnerable after confronting violent incidents. It is also interesting that the fear of being the subject of an investigation increases burnout for women but not for men. Given that this type of experience is relatively rare for most officers, it makes sense that the fear of an investigation produces stress but less often burnout. For women, however, they may, in fact, experience increased scrutiny as the subject of investigations in a gendered environment where men and women may not be treated similarly. This explanation is supported by the finding that women with administrative support experienced significantly less burnout; although, this relationship was not significant for men. Women are already marginalized in police work environments (Dodge & Pogrebin, 2001; S. Martin, 1994). When faced with an investigation, women may receive limited support of their peers, making this stressor more significant for women officers. Similarly, women who experience less administrative support may feel (and may in fact be) more vulnerable, in general, which may result in burnout. As stated previously, prior research indicates that retention of female officers remains a problem, and some scholars argue that this failure is related to sexual harassment and hostile work environment issues (Lonsway et al., 2002). It has been demonstrated that sexual harassment is a widespread problem in police department (Brown, 1998). In C. Martin’s (1996) research, all but two women experienced sexual harassment on the job. Sexual harassment is a particularly noteworthy problem in departments typically dominated by men (i.e., vice, gang units, etc.) and forces many women to transfer to “feminine” areas of policing to avoid mistreatment. For example, in Brown’s (1998) research, 70% of the female officers experienced some type of direct sexual harassment and nearly half reported this as a frequent problem. Thus, it should not be surprising that there is a relationship between administrative support and burnout for women, and it likely is related to the ways in which male officers, in particular, maintain hegemonic masculinity in a highly gendered organization.

For men, the emotional toll of making a violent arrest increases the likelihood of burnout and it is the only work-related variable that is significant. Results for women indicate that the only work-related variable that is statistically significant involves being the subject of an investigation. In fact, this variable is the second strongest in the regression. The Z value for the investigation variable is statistically significant indicating between group differences for men and women. This variable may be of particular interest because women are already marginalized in police work environments (Dodge & Pogrebin, 2001; S. Martin, 1994). When faced with an investigation, women may receive limited support of their peers, making this stressor more significant for women officers.

Gender dynamics also shape and aggravate stress among both male and female officers, although in different ways. For male officers, both the presence of genderrelated jokes and the perception that the department is lenient toward women were significantly associated with burnout but only the leniency variable was significant for females. Gendered interactions also had direct and indirect effects on stress and burnout. The gender-related variables directly increased stress for both men and women, and stress, in turn, elevated the risk of burnout for both groups.

It is not surprising that male officers were most apt to believe that women were treated more leniently. The perception that women are physically too weak to fulfill job requirements is a recurring theme in police organization literature (Brown, 1998; C. Martin, 1996; Segrave, 1995; Wadman & Allison, 2004). Prior research shows that, for the most part, male officers viewed female officers as a liability, believing they lack the physical size to contain violent offenders and create safety concerns in patrol situations (Brown, 1998; C. Martin, 1996; S. Martin, 1980). It is also not surprising that male officers who endorse this view are more likely to experience stress and burnout if they think that they are being treated unfairly or that women are somehow “getting by” without living up to departmental expectations. For male officers, affirmative responses to the gender-perception variable support hegemonic masculine beliefs by reinforcing the perception that women have failed to meet “masculine” standards of the police role. Such beliefs facilitate police masculinity and hegemonic masculinity by establishing policing as only appropriate for men and thereby also increasing stress and burnout when these beliefs are challenged by the presence of women in policing.

Interestingly, the leniency-perception variable had no affect on women’s reports of stress or burnout. It seemed likely that women would experience increased stress and burnout when male colleagues felt that they were treated differently; however, the lack of significance may be related to their overwhelming rejection of the notion that women are treated more leniently. The distribution of the leniency-perception variable is markedly different according to respondents’gender, with more than 50% of males believing that the department treats women favorably compared with 8% of the females who endorsed this belief. The stress and burnout level of women officers also did not appear related to the gender-leniency variable in the current regression models. Because the vast majority of women do not support the belief that the department is more lenient on women, it is logical to conclude that this perception would not influence their stress levels. Had the question asked directly about the perception of their peers, the responses of women officers may have reflected a situational context more likely to result in increased stress and burnout levels for women. In other words, if the question had asked whether or not their fellow officer’s beliefs about leniency toward women impacted stress and burnout, the results may have been different. Future research should attempt to disentangle this particular dynamic for women officers.

Similarly, the data collection process did not unequivocally ask officers if their work environment was hostile toward females; however, the question regarding gender-related jokes gives some indication of how women were treated in the organization. The perceptions that gender jokes are common varies strongly by sex category and is directly associated with negative outcomes in many of the regression models. The fact that women, especially White women, experienced gender-oriented jokes on the job is similar to other reports that sexual harassment and maltreatment is common in police culture (Brown, 1998; C. Martin, 1996; Westmarland, 2001). Jokes allow male officers to assert their masculinity and belittle female coworkers under the protective guise of humor. If female officers are offended by these jokes, they may be ridiculed for lacking a “sense of humor” and further marginalized by peers. Macho officers use this type of interaction as additional evidence that women do not belong in policing. Given the social arrangements that shape gender-oriented humor, it is not surprising that this variable is associated with increased stress for women.

Although the question about gender jokes does not directly access the target of gender jokes, both prior research and the current distribution of responses indicate that women are the likely target of such jokes, which is likely associated with being the target of sexually oriented and harassing behavior. As noted previously, sexual harassment is believed to be widespread in policing. Westmarland (2001) further argues that humor and satire are used as tools to deprofessionalize women officers (p. 89). Even jokes that target male officers are likely demeaning toward women. For example, a male officer calling another male a “pussy” or “bitch.”

It is somewhat surprising though that the gender jokes variable was not connected with negative outcomes among female officers in the burnout model because links between gender jokes and burnout for female officers is easily understandable. Work environments wrought with crude and insensitive gender-oriented humor, theoretically, should increase burnout for targets of such humor; however, this phenomenon is not supported in these data. It is possible that women have learned to adjust to such behavior or that such treatment does not translate into reported burnout levels. Perhaps women who have burned out because of this behavior have already left the department. Or, perhaps women come to expect this type of behavior in many/most work environments, so it may cause stress, but it may not result in burnout. This finding presents yet another area for further research.

It was also surprising to find that awareness of gendered jokes was linked to both stress and burnout for men. Perhaps male officers experience stress and burnout as a response to maltreatment of women in their department. It also is likely though that these variables represent a proxy measure of sexist attitudes toward women and that the very presence of female officers is linked to stress and burnout because some men are unwilling or unable to simultaneously accept that women can be police officers without compromising the masculinity of policing itself and the officers who do this work. The link between these variables and negative outcomes for male officers speaks to the power of police masculinity. Attributes associated with masculinity allow few acceptable outlets for stress and burnout. Police masculine practices also exclude women because of beliefs about their emotional states. Emotional control, a powerful gender display for males, is a masculine badge worn when facing extremely stressful events. Men displaying emotional responses to high-stress events risk the powerful stigma of weakness—the polar opposite of police masculinity. Hypermasculine self-reliance manifested in the superman mentality sets up male officers for failure. By not dealing with stressful events as they arise, these officers create the potential for devastating physical and psychological consequences.

Ironically, men in law enforcement face negative psychological and behavioral problems because of their negative treatment of women; however, it must be noted that the women in law enforcement face the daily, direct influence of hypermasculine behavior in a highly gendered organization. Men insult women officers by implying they receive favorable treatment. It is not that women have proved their merit in law enforcement, it is that the standards have been lowered to accept the “less” capable gender. Additionally, mild or not so mild, sexual harassment in police work environments appears in the form of gender-related jokes. This masculine practice directly targets women officers, but it is also embedded in the gendered organization itself.

Results from these data provide a clear framework for future study. The types of interactive and structural dynamic espoused by the theoretical orientation of this research are not easily apparent through survey data. A more detailed qualitative analysis is apt to uncover more nuanced aspects of the relationship between gender and burnout. A clear limitation of this research relates to data. Although these data lack strongly worded questions regarding the acceptance of women in law enforcement, the variables of leniency and gender jokes provide some insight into the gender dynamics of policing, as they relate to stress and burnout and offer preliminary support for the theory that police stress and burnout is, in part, the result of gendered organizational structures and gendered interactions among officers. The current findings offer a springboard for a more detailed analysis of police masculine behavior and its corresponding relationship to stress and burnout.

Perhaps the most interesting contribution of these findings is the importance of gender dynamics in law enforcement work environments, underscoring the need for including gender influences in the analysis of stress and burnout among law enforcement. Perception of leniency and the observation of gender-related humor in the work place varied significantly according to the intersections of race and gender. The responses to these gender related statements are not shocking given the gendered and racialized nature of interactions in criminal justice organizations (Britton, 2003; Dodge & Pogrebin, 2001; S. Martin, 1994); however, it is important to note that these differences reflect group-based perceptions. The respondents work and live in the same environment, but White males apparently do not experience the same awareness as others in the department, reflecting what some refer to as White masculine privilege (Barak et al., 2007). In essence, men and women officers reside in the same environments, yet live and work in different worlds.


1. The ICPSR suggest the following citation format to be included in text as a footnote: Gershon,Robyn. Police stress and domestic violence in police families in Baltimore, Maryland, 1997-1999 [Computer file]. ICPSR version. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University [producer], 1999. Ann Arbor, MI: Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research [distributor], 2000.

2. Each of these variables is indicative of the acceptance of women within the Baltimore PoliceDepartment. An attempt to create indexes out of these variables was unsuccessful and latent trait factor analysis indicated that they did not load on one or more factors. For this reason, these variables are included as separate binary categories.

3. Initial versions of this research used two-step regression model with the gender variables includedin the second step. Including the gender variables in the second stage of both stress and burnout models increases the R2, reduces standard error, and yields statistically significant F tests at greater than the 99.999% confidence level. These findings validate the inclusion of gender dynamics in regression models and indicate that regression models without them are misspecified.

4. Several techniques are used to explore for possible variable interaction. Interaction variables werecreated to test for this effect and included in earlier models. According to Jaccard and Turrisi (2003), interaction can be tested by multiplying the possible interacting variable and creating a new product variable. The new variable is included in the model to test for significance. None of the interaction variables created as the product gender (both male and female in different regressions) and the leniency and gender joke variables resulted in significant t tests. Therefore, these product variables were excluded in the final analysis.

5. For a detailed discussion of testing equality of regression coefficients see Paternoster, Brame,Mazerolle, & Piquero, 1998; Brame, Paternoster, Mazerolle, & Piquero, 1998). Z values allow criminologists to determine if causal effects are equivalent when estimated within two independent samples. I calculate Z values in accordance with the unbiased formula presented by Paternoster et al. (1998). For ease of interpretation, I report “yes” for Z tests reaching the value of statistical significance (1.96) and “no” for nonsignificant values in gender spilt models for stress and burnout.


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Don L. Kurtz, PhD, is an assistant professor of social work and a criminologist in the Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Social Work at Kansas State University. His research interests include juvenile justice, probation outcomes, youth violence, family aggression, and the link between gender and violence. His research is published in the Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency and the Western Criminology Review. Prior to seeking his doctorate, he was employed as a social worker in a juvenile probation office.

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