Police Stress


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Development of the
Police Stress Questionnaires


  1. Dr. Donald R. McCreary (Principal Investigator)
  2. Dr. Megan M. Thompson (Co-investigator)
  3. Wendy Sullivan, MA (Research Assistant)
Project Funding:
  1. Workplace Safety and Insurance Board of Ontario, Research Advisory Council
Project Supporters:
  1. Ontario Provincial Police Academy
  2. Ontario Provincial Police Association
  3. Ontario Police College
  4. Defence R&D Canada — Toronto
Publication Reference:
McCreary, D.R., & Thompson, M.M. (2006). Development of two reliable and valid measures of stressors in policing: The Operational and Organizational Police Stress Questionnaires. International Journal of Stress Management, 13, 494-518.

The relationship between stress and health (i.e., both physical health and psychological well-being) has received much attention over the years, with researchers demonstrating a consistent association between the two; that is, the more stress people experience, the poorer their physical and mental health. People with higher stress levels report significantly lower overall health and well-being, report the presence of significantly more adverse health symptoms (e.g., increased blood pressure, sleep disturbances), are at greater risk for long-term health problems (e.g., hypertension, coronary artery disease, auto-immune disorders, diabetes), are at greater risk for premature mortality, are more likely to experience symptoms of depression, generalized anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other psychological ailments (e.g., substance abuse), and they utilize significantly more health care resources (e.g., physicians, hospitals, sick days).

Occupational stress also has a negative effect on employers, something which many people (including the employers themselves) often overlook. Direct costs to employers include reduced productivity, as well as increased absenteeism and employee turnover as a result of issues such as stress-related illness, burnout and low levels of job satisfaction (e.g., Spielberger, Reheiser, Reheiser, & Vagg, 2000). Other costs to employers include health insurance payments to individuals and their families for workplace-related psychological disabilities. A recent study by Sauter (1992) revealed that occupational health insurance payouts total more than five billion dollars annually in the US alone. While these costs tend to be borne by the insurers, as opposed to the employers, they are passed onto the employers and employees through higher insurance premiums.

The association between stress and health is particularly worrisome for those who work in high stress occupations. One of the most highly stressful occupations in North America is policing (e.g., Pendleton, Stotland, Spiers, & Kirsch, 1989). But what are the aspects of policing that are most stressful and what impact do these stressors have on the health and well-being of police officers? This is a complex question, and one that has not been adequately addressed by researchers. While many studies have sought to identify the stressors associated with policing, few have actually tried to link those stressors to officer health and quantify the association.

One reason for this is that there is no commonly used measure of police stress. Thus, the purpose of this research is to develop a short, psychometrically sound measure of the stressors associated with policing, which will then be used in a future program of research investigating the associations among stress, physical health, and psychological well-being.

A three-phase development procedure was followed:

  1. Focus Groups: A series of six focus groups were conducted with 55 experienced, active duty officers from the Ontario Privincial Police (OPP). The focus groups helped us identify current and commonly experienced stressors associated with policing. Based on these, we determined that there were two general categories of stressors faced by police officers: Operational Stress and Organizational stress. It was decided to use the most commonly mentioned stressors from the focus groups to create two separate police stress questionnaires: the Operational Police Stress Questionnaire (PSQ-Op) and the Organizational Police Stress Questionnaire (PSQ-Org).
  2. Phase 1 (Pilot-testing): The PSQ-Op and the PSQ-Org were given to a group of 47 OPP officers to determine whether there were any problems with the wording of the items or instructions. Participants rated each item for both stress and frequency. In addition, the phase 1 pilot-testing served as an initial assessment of the PSQ-Op's and PSQ-Org's reliability. Based on the responses, the wording of three items was altered slightly, as were the instructions. One item from the PSQ-Org was split into two separate questions. Initial psychometric analyses showed that both the PSQ-Op and PSQ-Org had excellent internal consistency (Cronbach alphas > .90) and corrected item-total correlations between .30 and .60. Finally, stress ratings for the PSQ-Op and PSQ-Org were correlated with their respective frequency ratings (r = .70).
  3. Phase II (Reliability and Validity): This was conducted in two parts. In the first part, 197 active duty police officers from throughout Ontario completed the PSQ-Op (20 items), the PSQ-Org (20 items), the Perceived Stress Scale (Cohen et al., 1983), a short version of the Daily Hassles scale (McCreary & Sadava, 1998), and a measure of negative life events (McCreary & Sadava, 1998). Findings demonstrated that both the PSQ-Op and PSQ-Org were highly reliable (alphas > .90; corrected item-total correlations between .40 and .60) and both were positively correlated (r = .50 or less) with the other general stress measures. In the second part, a different group of 188 police officers (mostly from Ontario, but with some officers coming from other Canadian provinces) completed the PSQ-Op, the PSQ-Org, the Job Satisfaction Survey (JSS; Spector, 1997), and the Job-related Affective Well-being Scale (JAWS; Van Katwyn et al., 2000). The results again showed that the two PSQ scales were highly reliable (alphas > .90; corrected item-total correlations between .40 and .60). In addition, the PSQ-Op and PSQ-Org scores were negatively correlated with self-ratings from the JSS (-.19 to -.56) and the positive work-related emotions subscale from the JAWS (-.20 to -.25), but were positively correlated with scores from the negative work-related emotions subscale from the JAWS (.27 to .34).
UPDATE: As of the current update of this page, the Operational Police Stress Questionnaire (PSQ-Op) and the Organizational Police Stress Questionnaire (PSQ-Org) are available for use by researchers interested in exploring police stress. The PSQ-Op and PSQ-Org are both 20-items each and can be used either separately or together. The short length of each PSQ helps to reduce to burden placed on officers completing them and allows researchers greater flexibility (in terms of focussing on either operational or organizational stress, if they so desire). Each PSQ is scored by summing or averaging the 20 items from each to create separate PSQ-OP and PSQ-Org scale scores.

The PSQ-Op and PSQ-Org have been adopted by researchers world-wide. They also have been translated into numerous other languages.

The PSQ-Op and PSQ-Org can be downloaded from this web page in PDF format or you can contact Dr. Don McCreary (NOTE: this e-mail link takes you to Don's work e-mail address) for either an electronic copy (in MS Word) or a hard copy version. Please note that the PSQ-OP and PSQ-Org can be used freely for academic research, as well as by police departments. For all other purposes, contact Dr. McCreary.

When citing or referencing the PSQ scales in your publications or presentations, please use the reference citation at the top of this page.


© Copyright Don McCreary
Last revised October 3, 2009