Police Suicides – The Grim Reality (Edited Version)

Last Updated on August 2, 2019 by RetiredAndAngry

Many apologies for the length of time it hs taken to get this post from Draft to Published, I am still awaiting responses from far too many Forces for my liking.  Not acceptable for any request, but this one is simply numbers-based, but may have stirred up some embarrassment.

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?

So, only 1 Force (some have not respected the 20 working day deadline and responded yet)  records the number of serving, or former, officers who have taken their own lives? One single Force.  Most don’t record that information, many have Refused it on grounds of Cost.  Some have even referred me the the Coroner, which is quite inappropriate and displays lack of understanding in my opinion.

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.

15 comments on “Police Suicides – The Grim Reality (Edited Version)

  1. I’m always interested in people (you are not the only one) who claim to care about PTSD in police officers and it’s impact and yet at the same time set themselves hard against the best means of support.

    In the US the largest long term longitudinal study tracked the impact of PTSD on veterans (it’s still ongoing) who had served in the Vietnam War, the most significant finding? Anyone can get PTSD…but the critical factor in recovering (I.e. getting past it and certainly not committing suicide) was educational attainment, people with degrees recovered quicker that poorly educated veterans. There it is.

    But people like you keep insisting that poorly educated people make the best police officers.

    So choose your argument, do you want better educated cops who will cope better with PTSD or do you want poorly educated cops, struggling and, sometimes failing to live with PTSD.
    Do you really care about Cops and members of the emergency services having PTSD? Then start being an advocate for better education and higher educational standards in policing. It’s their best protection.

    So if you are a police officer or staff reading this and worried about PTSD and the stresses of work, you can either look at the data and the research and start building your protective factors (get into education and life long learning) or you can listen to the “old sweats” who tell you education is irrelevant and then write hand wringing blogs that solve nothing.

    • I don’t need any lectures from you. I will approach the problem in my own way. I am not making any connection between educational achievement and PTSD nor am I denying it. I am not making any connection between Graduate Entry and Police Suicides, you appear to be doing that. I do not force you to read a single word I write, so don’t bother. Unless you have something useful to contribute then you need not waste your time any more.

    • Can I just point out that the majority of grunts sent to do the main fighting were drafted from the less-weel-off communities, while university/wealthy Fortunate Son’s were able to claim bone spurs or do a runner to Canada? If the vast majority of your fighting force who actually see action are poorly educated working class in the first place, is it any wonder that PTSD appears to occur in them rather than the better educated/wealthy who were less likely to be frontline for as long?
      What r&a seems to want is what I wanted to highlight in my original report – quantifiable recognition of the scale of the problem first, then specific action to tackle that potential problem. Ignoring all that has gone before – reduction in numbers, single crewing, increased stress, more hostility towards officers, more scrutiny, stricter targets, tackling more traumatic incidents, fewer breaks, less canteens or ‘safe zones to blow off steam in an non-judgemental environment’ – is not a way forward…

  2. You took the time to put some thoughts down on the subject, I thought you’d appreciate some facts.

    I think you’ll find pointing to excellent research which points to protective factors for treating PTSD does constitute “something useful to contribute” and some of your readers may be interested.

    It’s about playing to your strengths when a subject is raised…some people look at the evidence and potential solutions (that’s me)…others prefer whinging, hand wringing, virtue signalling (I leave you to guess who that is).

    • I will happily leave your arrogant comments here for all to see and judge, but I won’t be responding to them any further. Feel free to waste your time if you insist, but I’m out.

  3. Wow, I have pondered this for several weeks and am in the mood to just speak to RetiredAndAngry, I have little time for the other person, whom I do not know,

    The “better educated” Veterans of whom he spoke returned to the United States in better stead to deal with PTSD perhaps because of their education allowing them to enter an inviting workforce and thereby not fall into the traps that men with lesser opportunity to join the civilian workforce. In doing so their problems may have been dealt with in a manner which didn’t put them on the radar for such studies. Being a veteran I receive treatment at a VA facility, my doctor, therapist and fellow patients can all see a difference between me and other veterans and we all believe that there is an intangible (perhaps) difference which some day may be borne out and quantified, between combat PTSD and police related PTSD. I have definite thoughts on that, but that’s for a different day.

    The largest department in my state awards, through a state university, a degree to every academy graduate. That’s a department of over 800 men and women(large for here). Their disability rate for PTSD and related mental health diagnosis is just as high as the rest of the state. I know this not from studies but from talking to the brass in that department as well as the disability boards across the state. Of course this information may not be forthcoming to people who aren’t personally known to these people.

    Do highly people genuinely recover from PTSD easier? who knows. I do know that by and large they make s**t police officers, with some stunning exceptions. Read the earlier paragraph carefully; the previously mentioned department isn’t hiring college educated people. The applicant pool is wide open, they tried the other way and it failed spectacularly. If asked I can elaborate, but be ready to laugh and cry with me.

    Stick to your guns RetiredAndAngry. Seeing is believing and I’ve seen.

  4. It really boils down to a simple choice; would you rather people have a good education or be saddled with the problems of PTSD and suicide?

  5. I notice you are trying to avoid the question. Could you answer it please?

    And if you answer is a good education, perhaps you could say what, in your opinion, that looks like. I am interested in what someone who is antagonistic to the idea of cops having a good education, thinks that a good education looks like.

    • You either assume too much or are deliberately misrepresenting my views. I have NEVER opposed a good level of education I have however, along with many others, opined that a degree is not a vital prerequisite to joining the Police Service, but can be awarded at an appropriate point in service. For you to state that I have ever said other than that would be untrue. Also, having a degree in any subject does not grant some mystical immunity to stress/PTSD. That is my answer to you.

  6. As I am asking you what your views are, I am not sure how that can be misrepresenting them. If you want to know my assumptions I believe that a good education makes for a better police officer and that a good education (based on the previous stated report) can be an important protective factor in people recovering from PTSD.

    But what I asked you was, what does a good education look like? In terms of before you become a police officer and while you are serving as a police officer what sort of skills are needed, how do we gain them and how do we measure them?

    There’s no catch here, just the possibility that through an exchange of views and experiences we both may learn something new.

    • I have no idea what a good education looks like but I do know what a good Police Officer looks like, and that person may have a Masters Degree or no formal qualifications at all. Policing is not an Academic profession, it’s a hands on,dirty type of business at the coal face. Senior Officers however are a different breed and the current fascination with DE puts more emphasis on qualifications than experience. Those are my views on the subject, none of which helps in any way with the subject of this post.

    • You assume a “good education” is revealed in a degree.

      It really isn’t. It’s as much to do with the role you go into as the education you have. Baden Powell highlighted this in his book Scouting for Boys where he noted how the educated Europeans who would swan about desert regions in Sudan and Australia would die within days, whilst the uneducated indigenous people would survive. Being a brain surgeon does not mean you can handle a raging suicidal woman, and being a O’level copper doesn’t mean you are able to perform open heart surgery…

      • I totally agree Carl. Contrary tosome folks’ opinions I am NOT opposed to degrees, I AM opposed to the presumption that they are an essential pre-requisite for Policing. Front Line Policing is not an academic subject and no Degree will ever prepare you for rolling around in a pub on a Saturday night or dealing with the reality andthe aftermath of a promising young man throwing himself under a train. Degrees are most definitely beneficial for the higher ranks but I remain to be convinced (and have not seen the evidence) that they are in any way essential to Front Line, Hands On, Policing.

      • Additionally, and more importantto this topic, I have yet to see the evidence that “a good education” means one is less likely to commit suicide, in any profession. My experience of life and what I have seen on Social Media, indicates that it can affect anybody regardless of their level of education

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