Death Work: Police, Trauma, and the Psychology of Survival

Hardcover | June 10, 2004

byVincent E. HenryForeword byRobert Jay Lifton

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In this fascinating new book, Vincent Henry (a 21-year veteran of the NYPD who recently retired to become a university professor) explores the psychological transformations and adaptations that result from police officers' encounters with death. Police can encounter death frequently in thecourse of their duties, and these encounters may range from casual contacts with the deaths of others to the most profound and personally consequential confrontations with their own mortality. Using the 'survivor psychology' model as its theoretical base, this insightful and provocative researchventures into a previously unexplored area of police psychology to illuminate and explore the new modes of adaptation, thought, and feeling that result from various types of death encounters in police work. The psychology of survival asserts that the psychological world of the survivor--one who has come in close physical or psychic contact with death but nevertheless managed to live--is characterized by five themes: psychic numbing, death guilt, the death imprint, suspicion of counterfeit nurturance,and the struggle to make meaning. These themes become manifest in the survivor's behavior, permeating his or her lifestyle and worldview. Drawing on extensive interviews with police officers in five nominal categories--rookie officers, patrol sergeants, crime scene technicians, homicide detectives, and officers who survived a mortal combat situation in which an assailant or another officer died--Henry identifies the impact such deathencounters have upon the individual, the police organization, and the occupational culture of policing. He has produced a comprehensive and highly textured interpretation of police psychology and police behavior, bolstered by the unique insights that come from his personal experience as an officer,his intimate familiarity with the subtleties and nuances of the police culture's value and belief systems, and his meticulous research and rigorous method. Death Work provides a unique prism through which to view the individual, organizational, and social dynamics of contemporary urban policing.With a foreword by Robert Jay Lifton and a chapter devoted to the local police response to the World Trade Center attacks, Death Work will be of interest to psychologists and criminal justice experts, as well as police officers eager to gain insight into their unique relationship to death.

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From the Publisher

In this fascinating new book, Vincent Henry (a 21-year veteran of the NYPD who recently retired to become a university professor) explores the psychological transformations and adaptations that result from police officers' encounters with death. Police can encounter death frequently in thecourse of their duties, and these encounters m...

Vincent E. Henry is at Pace University.
Format:HardcoverDimensions:416 pages, 6.42 × 9.29 × 1.5 inPublished:June 10, 2004Publisher:Oxford University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0195157656

ISBN - 13:9780195157659

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Table of Contents

Robert Jay Lifton: ForewordIntroduction: The Death and Policing Nexus1. Death Work: The General Context2. Police Survivors of Death Encounters: Theoretical Perspective and Strategy of Inquiry3. Becoming a Cop: Basic Social and Psychological Processes4. The Rookie's Experience: Introduction to Death5. Patrol Sergeants: Routinization of the Death Encounter6. Crime Scene Detectives: 'Technicizing' the Death Encounter7. Homicide Detectives: Emotional Reactions to Violent Death8. Police Survivors: Genuine Threats to the Sense of Immortality9. Reflections and Observations

Editorial Reviews

"Vincent Henry introduces a new and important line of inquiry into the emotionally dangerous labor of American police officers by offering up a considered appraisal of how NYPD cops approach, cope with, and more or less survive their recurrent and seemingly relentless occupational encounterswith death. Scholarly, literate, tightly focused but broadly framed, Death Work is a must read for those who seek to understand both the psychological demands and cultural context of urban policing. By taking readers into the often helpful, if numbing, routines worked out on the ground for the grimyet necessary business of attending to the dead, Henry casts unusual light on matters surprisingly ignored in studies of the police work. This is a read that sticks with one long after putting it down. And properly so."--John Van Maanen, Ph.D., Erwin Schell Professor of Organization Studies,Massachusetts Institute of Technology