Research shows police officers' biggest gripe is administrative hassles. But for Utah Highway Patrol troopers, it's not so much the administration that gets to them as the uncertainty of what lurks in the vehicle they've just pulled over, said Sgt. Gary Whitney.
"I don't think that with the Highway Patrol that (administrative stress) has been as significant as the everyday stress of walking up to a car and wondering who is in there," said Whitney, a 17-year veteran of the patrol."Many times police officers, even though they get into more violent situations, they have some sort of idea what they're getting into," he said. "But a highway patrolman, when he makes a stop, you don't know what or who is in there."
Whitney spent part of his early years with the patrol in Duchesne County.
"At least in the busier metropolitan areas, the Highway Patrol makes almost exclusively traffic stops," he said. "In the outlying areas away from the Wasatch Front, the Highway Patrol gets involved with almost anything other agencies do."
He recalls the time he was called out on a family fight and ended up being chased by a woman with a meat saw.
"Usually you've got some kind of advantage, you know what you're doing, you know you have help. But you go into a family fight you have good people whose emotions are running high and they just want to kill someone. You're trying to get people calm and not get hurt."
The growing business of drug running, and Utah's infamous "Cocaine Lane" on I-70, has increased the risk to UHP troopers. Drug runners, Whitney said, often carry heavy-duty weapons along with the cocaine, heroin and marijuana.
"The drug trade has made making a stop out on the highway more dangerous than in the past because there's a lot of people who move that stuff along the highways," he said. "Although we have been fortunate in Utah to not have a drug arrest turn into a shooting," the possibility remains.
The UHP requires troopers to take 40 hours of classes a year, and stress management is among the courses.