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PhD Studentship Opportunity

The Policing team have had a Studentship accepted by the Faculty. This provides a tremendous opportunity for someone to work on a funded project supervised by The Open University. 

The project is entitled "Stress and decision making – the link between trauma, culture and misconduct in policing", with Matthew Higgins and Sarah-Jane Lennie leading the work. 


Project Description

The aim of this project is to understand the role of stress and trauma exposure within the culture of policing and how this contributes to poor decision making identified within police misconduct cases, specifically within the British Transport Police.

Policing is a highly stressful occupation with exposure to traumatic incidents higher than that of the general population. Levels of PTSD and CPTSD are identified at over 20% of serving police officers, not just as an outcome of exposure to trauma but uniquely predicted through the experience of humiliating behaviour and sexual harassment (Brewin et al., 2020). Police culture often stigmatises not only mental ill-health, but also normal emotional experiencing and as a result restricts help seeking behaviours that contribute to the levels of mental ill-health currently experienced within the British police service (Velazquez and Hernandez, 2019; Lennie et al., 2021).

In line with this restrictive culture, police officers are well documented for their maladaptive coping strategies, including that of dissociation where officers split off from thoughts, memories and feelings in an effort to avoid stressful and distressing memories (Aaron, 2000; Lennie, 2020).

The role of emotions in decision making is well evidenced within psychological literature (Lerner et al., 2015) as is stress and trauma (Mogado et al, 2014). However, recent increases in misconduct cases of police officers would suggest floored decision making below the expectation of their professional standard, such as those identified by Baroness Casey in her recent review of the standards of behaviour and internal culture of the Metropolitan Police Service (Casey, 2023). Little research has been conducted into mental health and police misconduct despite calls for a trauma informed approach to understanding and reducing misconduct within policing (Bishop et al., 2016; Raver and McElheran, 2022).

This proposed study is particularly relevant with the British Transport Police who deal with all deaths on the rail network and therefore typically have a higher exposure to potentially traumatic incidents. Findings would further the understanding between trauma exposure, psychological health and deviant behaviour, within a police setting. This project would also contribute to the growing narrative around the role of the organisation in police misconduct and the need for cultural change within the British police service.


Candidates would be encouraged to take a mixed methods approach and use tested measures of stress and trauma alongside secondary data of traumatic incident exposure and autobiographical interviews with officers. Access will be facilitated by the Police Federation of the British Transport Police. 

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Sep 25

Online Seminar: Strengthening Trust and Legitimacy of Policing

Wednesday, September 25, 2024 - 13:00 to 14:30

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