1 May 2019
One of the best parts of my job as chair of the Federation is I have the privilege of being able to travel around the country visiting our local branches and meeting our members – the hard-working officers doing fantastic work keeping our communities safe day in day out. But all too often when I speak to them the thing that strikes me is the large differences between forces when it comes to how they are supported; some will say there are brilliant welfare provisions and they feel cared for, yet others feel as though nothing is being done other than a wellbeing poster on the toilet cubicle door. There can’t be a postcode lottery on officer wellbeing, there must be a more joined up approach for something so important.
Yesterday (30 April) the new National Police Wellbeing Service was launched. I’m hoping this new service will take this fragmented approach and pull the pieces together so any officer in need, no matter how little or large their force may be, can receive the help they need when they need it.
I am pleased to see the welfare of our members being put on the map and it is a start - but we have got to build on this. This isn’t just for chiefs, but also for the Federation, UNISON and others to make sure wellbeing isn’t just that poster on a wall.
When I speak with some chiefs I really do sense they care, but what I think chiefs need to acknowledge is no matter how passionate they personally might be about wellbeing, sometimes their views, hopes and ideas don’t filter down to officers and staff on the ground, this needs to change. At the moment chiefs across forces are having some brilliant ideas around the country, they are making a difference, but why isn’t it replicated?
I encourage the chiefs to keep working with us at the Federation so we can get this right, because it is far too important an issue to get wrong. We need a positive sustained commitment to change to make sure this will make a genuine difference to officers when it really matters.
Wellbeing can be as basic as asking someone how they are doing after a tough incident they’ve dealt with, right through to providing external support, whether it’s at a rehabilitation centre or psychological support, peer support, financial support or private medical treatment. Wellbeing can be many things and people’s needs can be very complex - one size does not fit all - but what’s important is if officers want help and support they know where to get it.
If we fail our officers in their darkest moments, we have failed the service as a whole – we have got to look after our people so in turn they can look after the public. Far too many colleagues suffer in silence. Colleagues will know when a teammate is not themselves, or if they have been deployed to one too many traumatic incidences or is something really painful going on at home. We need to makes sure when we see colleagues are struggling we know how to help.
I accept when somebody makes that heart-breaking choice to take their own life, nobody can understand what they are going through other than them. I know it’s rarely as simple as just one work-related matter or one home-related matter - it is a culmination of things creating a perfect storm.
I have been through some difficult times at work and have seen things which are unimaginable, painful and traumatic, and I’ve been through difficulties in my home life and sometimes when those two collide it can be very difficult to function. I have been lucky, and reached out for help and it got me through, but far too many colleagues feel like they aren’t able to. Lots has been done to fix this but we need to do more.
This week results from a Freedom of Information request from the Plymouth Herald showed just six forces across the country kept any kind of record of officer suicides. Chiefs will know officers who have taken their own lives, but what do they do with that information? There’s got to be a system if any police officer’s life is lost – be it by suicide or in the execution of duty, or any other way – so that we can consider what happened and learn from it.
If someone took their own life we need to understand, for example, if were they going through a something difficult at work like a misconduct matter, suspension or other process. Processes can be blunt and brutal – but we need to treat people like human beings, because I see all too often members left incredibly damaged by this. That is why the work we do with the Welfare Support Programme is so important and I know it has saved lives in the past.
In response to the article in the Plymouth Herald I have written to the National Police Chiefs’ Council Chair Martin Hewitt to open the conversation about how we can record and learn from deaths in service, especially around suicide, because we need to do more.
The Police Federation is playing its part when it comes to officer wellbeing. I see some brilliant things being done across England and Wales, whether providing support via the Welfare Support Programme, assisting officers through their darkest moments or sometimes just being a listening ear, every day we are making a difference, but we need to evolve and we need to carry on doing what we do best; our officers deserve nothing less.
Our police vehicles receive a daily check, have their levels checked and we make sure they are fit to go out on the road. Our vehicles are being treated better than our police officers which is perverse. We have to give officers an “MOT check”, we have to make sure they are functioning properly and if they are not we have we have to give them the time, expertise and support they need to repair themselves, so that our most valuable asset remains in the best condition possible.