Police Suicides – The Grim Reality (Edited Version)
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?
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