The Examination of Different Pathways Leading Towards Police Traumatization: Exploring the Role of Moral Injury and Personality in Police Compassion Fatigue

  • Konstantinos Papazoglou


Police officers are mandated to respond to critical incidents, and, as the first responders to arrive at a crime scene, they are often tasked with providing support to traumatized victims of crimes. Compassion fatigue is a type of traumatization (“cost of caring”) experienced by caregiving professionals who work with traumatized populations (Figley, 1995). Conversely, compassion satisfaction refers to the sense of fulfillment that first responders feel from helping those who suffer (Stamm, 2002). The current research project is comprised of three studies. In study 1, researchers recruited a national police sample (n=1,351) from the US and Canada and measured the prevalence rates of compassion fatigue and satisfaction. This study found that authoritarianism was significantly associated with compassion fatigue among study participants. In study 2, the researcher further explored the role of negative personality traits (i.e., dark triad – Machiavellianism, narcissism, psychopathy) in a national sample (n=1,173) of police officers serving with the National Police of Finland. Study 2’s findings were consistent with those of Study 1, showing that negative personality traits were significantly associated with compassion fatigue among police officers. Study 3 built on the main findings of the first two studies, and aimed to identify the different pathways that lead to traumatization by examining moral injury’s role in the process. Moral injury refers to unprecedented traumatic life events, which can be understood as events wherein one perpetrates, fails to prevent, or bears witness to actions that “transgress deeply held moral beliefs and expectations” (Litz et al., 2009, p.1). Employing moral injury would enable researchers to examine the different mechanisms that lead to traumatization. To this end, study 3 recruited a sample (n=453) comprised of officers from the National Police of Finland and the results showed that the dark triad of personality significantly predicted “self-focused” and “others-focused” moral injury. In addition, “self-focused” moral injury (and not “others-focused” moral injury) significantly predicted compassion fatigue and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms. Furthermore, it was found that “self-focused” moral injury significantly mediated the pathway between dark triad personality traits and traumatization (compassion fatigue and PTSD symptoms). Clinical implications and recommendations for future research are discussed. Keywords: compassion fatigue, compassion satisfaction, moral injury, traumatization, negative personality traits, police.

Author Biography

Konstantinos Papazoglou
Dr. Konstantinos Papazoglou, Ph.D., C.Psych. (Supervised Practice), has recently completed his doctoral degree (PhD) in psychology (clinical - forensic area) as Vanier Scholar at the University of Toronto. He is a former Police Major of the Hellenic Police Force and European Police College and holds a master’s degree in applied psychology from New York University (NYU) as Onassis Scholar. His research focuses on stress, trauma prevention, and resilience promotion among police officers. In terms of clinical work, Konstantinos currently works as a clinical and forensic psychologist (supervised practice) with the Ontario Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services - Justice Section, Ontario Correctional Institute where he conducts assessments and treatment for criminal justice offenders.