Police Suicides – The Grim Reality

Last Updated on October 30, 2019 by RetiredAndAngry

A heavily edited versiion of this post is available for those that don’t need the minutiae.

Following on from Carl Eve’s excellent piece in the Plymouth Herald I decided that I would repeat the exercise. I’m not assuming that Police Forces will tell me things that they wouldn’t tell him, they should answer ‘blind’ and give everyone who asks the same answer. They may, however, give me a different answer, and even if they don’t I’m free to present them in a different way to Carl.

I have asked each of the Forces the same two questions

  • For each of the previous 5 years how many Police Officers serving in your Force have taken their own lives?
  • For each of the previous 5 years how many former officers from your Force have taken their own lives?

Rather than summarise the responses I have decided that this is such an important issue that I would list their responses individually, so you may wish to skip straight to your local Force. I don’t have the slightest problem with ‘Naming and Shaming’ and highlighting which Forces failed to answer, Refused for whatever reason, or simply claim that they do not hold the information.

Avon and Somerset – We do not centrally record the number of serving or former officers that have taken their own lives. We would be required to locate any records relating to all reports of death in service and cross reference these with other HR records or communications held within the Constabulary to extract those that were as a result of suicide. It would take considerably longer than 18 hours to comply.

Bedfordshire – Following your request, searches were conducted at Bedfordshire Police and the Human Resource department for information relating to serving officers suicides in the last 5 years. These searches failed to locate any records / documents relevant to your request.  Accordingly I have determined that Bedfordshire Police do not hold the information you have requested. 

British Transport Police

Cambridgeshire – Cambridgeshire Constabulary does not record suicide within our Human Resources Department. The only data we can provide is death in service

Cheshire – There is no information held – this information is not recorded on our police HR systems.

City of London – 0 and 0

Cleveland – For each of the previous 5 years how many Police Officers serving in your Force have taken their own lives? a) No Information held we do not record this information. For each of the previous 5 years how many former officers from your Force have taken their own lives? a) No Information held we do not record this information. Please note it is The HM Coroner that determines the cause of death not the police.

Cumbria – We have had one suicide in the last 5 years of an off duty Police Officer.

Derbyshire – Following receipt of your request, searches were conducted within Derbyshire Constabulary to locate any relevant information. The searches did not locate any information relevant to your request.
As a consequence the position of the Constabulary is ‘no information held’.

Devon & Cornwall – 1. No information held on former Officers

Dorset – I can confirm that Dorset Police holds some information falling within the description specified in your request.  However, it is estimated that to locate, retrieve and extract the specific information is likely to take longer than 18 hours.

Durham – I can confirm the information requested is not held by Durham Constabulary.

Dyfed Powys – Dyfed-Powys Police are unable to confirm or not whether we hold information relevant to your request, since we consider that the Section 12(2) exemption the Cost of Compliance exceeds the Appropriate Limit applies to it. It has been established that there has been a total of 5,122 incidents recorded under the categories of “Sudden death” and “Sudden death suicide” that would require individual interrogation and it has been estimated that it would take a minimum of 10 minutes to research each individual record to establish if any of those incidents relate to a former police officer. Therefore total time estimate to complete Question 2 = 853.67 hours

Essex – Having completed enquiries within Essex Police in respect of Section 1(1)(a), Essex Police does not hold information relating to your request. Therefore, and in accordance with Section 17(1) of the FOIA, this response serves as a formal notification of refusal of your request on the basis that Essex Police does not hold, for the purposes of FOIA the information requested.

Gloucestershire

Greater Manchester Police – Following receipt of your request searches were conducted within Greater Manchester Police to locate information relevant to your request.  I can confirm that the information you have requested is not held by Greater Manchester Police

Gwent – We do not record this information

Hampshire – Hampshire Constabulary does not hold this information in a retrievable format. The cost of determining if the information is held, locating and retrieving the information exceeds the ‘appropriate level’ as stated in the Freedom of Information (Fees and Appropriate Limit) Regulations 2004. It is estimated that it would cost more than £450 to comply with your request.

Hertfordshire – Following your request, searches were conducted at Hertfordshire Constabulary and the Human Resource department for information relating to serving officers suicides in the last 5 years.  These searches failed to locate any records / documents relevant to your request.  Accordingly I have determined that Hertfordshire Constabulary do not hold the information you have requested.  

Humberside – This information is not ‘held’. The police do not record cause of death.

Kent – Kent Police does not hold this information. Please be aware that if suicide were suspected, then it
would be the responsibility of the coroner to determine the cause of death.

Lancashire – No information held.  Lancashire Constabulary do not formally record an officer’s cause of death and do not obtain death certificates. No information held.  The records of former Police Officers are only retained for pension purposes. The Lancashire Constabulary does not obtain the cause of death of former officers.

Lincolnshire – Information not held

Merseyside

Metropolitan Police – To locate the information relevant to your request searches were conducted within the MPS.  The information you have requested is not recorded by the MPS. We can only provide a number of deceased including deaths in service/on duty for officers, we wouldn’t know who committed suicide. In addition, our systems PSOP/MetHR does not show why an individual has died.

Norfolk – In both Norfolk and Suffolk, the Death Certificate is not required for someone to leave under the code Death, therefore we do not hold details of how staff or officers died and cannot confirm the numbers
who have taken their own lives. This would apply to both serving and retired / former officers.

North Wales – North Wales Police do not hold any information

North Yorkshire

Northamptonshire – Searches were conducted within Northamptonshire Police to locate the information
and I can now confirm that Northamptonshire Police does not hold any information
relative to your request. This is because Northamptonshire Police does not record the information requested on serving officers, nor does it keep records on officers who have left the force.

Northumbria – Response provided in May 2018 to a previous request ” Since 2002 there have been 23 Police Officer deaths and 24 Police Staff deaths. No information is held to the remainder of this request.  We do not record whether death occurred on or off duty nor do we record the cause of death.

Nottinghamshire – No information held

South Wales – South Wales Police do not have a category of ‘suicide’ as a reason for an officer’s employment ending – this would be categorised as a death while active. Therefore, South Wales Police do not hold the information to answer your request.

South Yorkshire – South Yorkshire Police do not specifically record suicide or taken their own life as a reason within our records, this would simply be recorded as ‘death’ or ‘died in service’.
With this in mind our formal response to this element of your request is therefore one of ‘no information held’.

South Yorkshire Police do not specifically record suicide or taken their own life as a reason within our records, this would simply be recorded as ‘death’ or ‘died in service’. With this in mind our formal response to this element of your request is therefore one of ‘no information held’.

StaffordshireThis information is not held

Suffolk – In both Norfolk and Suffolk, the Death Certificate is not required for someone to leave under the code Death, therefore we do not hold details of how staff or officers died and cannot confirm the numbers
who have taken their own lives. This would apply to both serving and retired / former officers.

Surrey – Section 1 of the Freedom of information Act 2000 (FOIA) places two duties on public authorities. Unless exemptions apply, the first duty at s1(1)(a) is to confirm or deny whether the information specified within a request is held. The second duty at s1(1)(b) is to disclose information that has been confirmed as being held. We directed enquiries to our Human Resources, Occupational Health and Professional Standards Departments, the information that you have requested is not held by Surrey Police.

Sussex

Thames Valley Police – This request is being refused under Section 12(1) of the FOIA. Section 12 of the FOIA allows that public authorities do not have to comply with section 1(1) of the Act if the cost of complying would exceed the appropriate limit. In accordance with the Freedom of Information Act, this letter represents a Refusal Notice for this request. The requested information would not be held in one central location. Data relating to your request is not held centrally by either the Occupational Health Department or Human Resources. Such information may be held by the Coroner as they would determine whether a death was caused by suicide. We would then need to look through all records for the requested time period to determine whether any individuals had ever served as a Thames Valley Police officer as this information would not be collated and stored in one location.

Warwickshire – No specific recorded information held. Warwickshire Police do not record this information

West Mercia – No specific recorded information held. West Mercia Police do not record this information

West Midlands – Our HR system only records death under the category “Leaver – Deceased”. There are no further category breakdowns, therefore, we do not hold any recorded information in respect of this request.

West Yorkshire – When recording the end of employment as a result of the employee dying in service, we do not electronically record the cause of the death and we only retain personal files for previous employees who are living

Wiltshire – We do not have this information.

So, only 1 Force (so far, a few have not yet responded) records the number of serving, or former, officers who have taken their own lives? One single Force.

Quite, quite disgraceful. This excercise has done little more than to confirm the work of Carl Eve and demonstrate, in my view, that NONE of the UK Police Forces cares enough about its officers in the 21st Century to consider that some may take their own lives and record that fact, quantifying it. It’s a bit like the Drugs Squads of Yesteryear. If you don’t have a Drugs Squad, you don’t arrest many people for drugs and therefore you don’t have a drugs problem. Naively, Police Forces seem to take the attitude that if they don’t count the number of, at least, serving Police Officers who take their own lives, it isn’t happening. They don’t have a problem so they don’t have to do anything about it. How can any organisation that claims to care about its workforce say “We don’t know how many have taken their own lives because we don’t record that information”?

Stress/PTSD comes to us in many ways, and yes, I am aware that it affects all of the Emergency Services and Armed Forces, but I’m staying in my comfort zone. Others can write more eloquently about other Services affected.

I’m willing to bet that almost every Police Officer knows about at least one officer in their own Force who has taken their own lives. I knew two. The one that I have previously written about took his life for reasons that were completely unrelated to his occupation. I know what they were but I will not be stating them. The second was an officer I knew previously well from an adjoining Borough/Division and he took his own life because of the demons from a particular event he had been involved in during his official duties. The Sergeant from the local SNT where I live also took his own life a year or two ago but I had never met him personally. There is more out there than you may think.

Leaving aside the traumatic experiences that our officers suffer on a daily basis, the demand upon a much reduced Police Service is increasing alarmingly. The total ‘Police Family’ has reduced from almost 257,000 in 2010 to 207,000 last year. 50,000 lost to the ‘family’. That HAS to mae a difference and increase the stresses and orkload on those still serving. Crimes have gone up. 999 nd 101 calls for Police attention have gone through the roof, but the government still seem to think tha the anwer is to ‘work smarter’. More and more leaves are being cancelled. The ‘extra’ officers so frequently referred to by the government and media do not exist, they are an illusion, the same old burnt-out officers with their leaves cancelled again, or working extended shifts.

As I have said previously, back in the 80 the Met had its own Nursing Home at Hendon. There was some form of an annexe in South London near Denmark Hill, there were at least 4 Welfare Officers (not many for so many officers but better than none). I have no idea what facilities other Forces had but I suspect that they were better then than now. No Nursing Home, I don’t know how many Welfare Officers but I suspect none. A situation that is almost certainly repeated in the Counties. There is Flint House at Goring but that is one facility for the whole of England and Wales, concentrating mainly (or possibly exclusively) on physical injuries.

Officers unsurprisingly feel like there is no support for them. They are almost all too proud to seek help from the Samaritans etc (not a criticism by any means) and their families, whilst meaning well, lack the professional expertise to support them properly (again, not a criticism).

I know that Theresa May abhors the ‘Canteen Culture’ but canteens have always played a vital role in helping our officers deal with their stress atc. They provided a multitude of informal routes for lowering stress and coming to terms with the trauma of the day. Chatting or even arguing with your colleagues, a game of cards, a quick zap of the Space Invaders machine, writing up the last job, or just generally sounding off putting the world to rights. Costa (other expensive coffee shops are also available) is not the place for this, plus it comes with the added disadvantage that there will always be a random ‘David Bailey’ who wants to take pics of cops doing what cops do, eat and drink, in his/her local MacDonalds etc etc. Not doing anything wrong, they have to eat and drinks somewhere. Many, if not all, canteens at operational Police Stations have been closed, or the Station that housed them closed down. Still plenty left at HQ Buildings though, I bet.

Is it any wonder some of them seek release by taking their own lives. If the Forces actually knew how many officers had taken their own lives I might be persuaded that they care, but they don’t know. “We don’t collect that data”. Well they should. I was lucky all those years ago, thanks to ‘Don’ I got help whilst it was still there. Today’s version of me is not so lucky. Even if ‘Don’ still exists where can he take his officers for help?

It is a disgrace. I do not attempt to quantify the scale of the similar problems in the other Emergecy Services or Armed Forces, but I suspect they are similar. there really isn’t a reason why they shouldn’t be. Central Government needs to recognise the problem and dedicate sufficient resources to tackling the problem in a meaningful way. There is absolutely NO EXCUSE for failing to look after the mental health and wellbeing of our Emergency Services and Armed Forces. I am not differentiating, they all deserve our total support. In My Humble Opinion there is absolutely no excuse in for any organisation in this age not to monitor employees who take their own lives. I can excuse, slightly, not monitoring Former Officers but current, serving Officers and Staff should definitely be monitored. How else does the organisation become aware that there is a problem?

#ProtectTheProtectors applies to all of them.

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