‘Doing The Job’- A Qualitative Exploration of Stress, Coping and Wellbeing in Police Forensic Support Roles in England

  • Rebecca McCarthy

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The wellbeing of police forensics staff is important, given they have an increased risk of experiencing poor wellbeing due to being directly or indirectly exposed to crime scenes, graphic imagery and crime scene materials and they also experience various organisational stressors. Previous research has mostly utilised a quantitative methodology focusing on examining specific factors such coping strategies or organisational or operational stressors in American crime scene investigators (CSI) or digital forensic investigators (DFI) samples. This research explores the experiences of police forensics staff from England across the full range of job roles present, including roles in crime scene investigation, digital forensics, management and supervision, imaging, laboratory, identification, and administration. The study examined decision making, organisational and operational stressors, the impact of stressors on wellbeing and relationships, the perceptions of organisational support and how wellbeing support can be developed. A qualitative methodology was utilised, and individual semi-structured interviews were conducted with thirty-four participants from a range of roles in two police forensics support services in England. In order to make comparisons, participants were placed into five groups based on their job roles. The interview transcripts were analysed using template analysis, uncovering four key themes across all groups which are: Decision Making, Impact of doing the job, Coping and Informal Support and Organisational Support. These themes were presented logically, following a narrative story which firstly details the context and decisions made across roles followed by the stressors experienced and the impact of the job, before considering the coping strategies employed by staff and finally discussing organisational support and how it can be developed in the future. Findings suggested the job did not have a significant impact on most participants although some participants displayed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), secondary traumatic stress (STS), vicarious trauma (VT) or compassion fatigue (CF). The study also found that most staff can cope with the job, with peer support being a key coping strategy along with distractions, distancing, and denial. Almost all participants acknowledged cases involving child victims or where they related to the victim, were more likely to affect them. The study contributed new knowledge to the police stress and coping literature, suggesting the experiences of forensics staff are similar to other policing roles, but also that certain stressors and impacts are experienced uniquely by participants across the sample and within specific job roles. These findings imply that organisational support should be tailored to individuals who work in specific forensics roles. The study made practical recommendations on how forces could improve organisational support including building a supportive organisational culture, increasing the accessibility and quality of support services, and taking a preventative proactive approach to wellbeing.
Date of Award28 Sep 2023
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorJason Roach (Main Supervisor) & Kathryn Sharratt (Co-Supervisor)

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