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Surrey Police Federation

"Repeated trauma exposure seriously impacts mental health"

31 January 2019

Repeated exposure to trauma can have a serious detrimental effect on a police officer’s mental health - with roads policing officers at high risk, along with those who investigate child sexual exploitation and firearms officers.

PFEW Vice-Chair Ché Donald gave a talk on trauma on day two of the Roads Policing Conference in Hinckley, Leicestershire, which illustrated the widespread nature of the issue and the urgent need for procedures to be put in place to protect officers.

Mr Donald shared a snapshot from the Police Federation’s 2018 survey on demand, capacity and welfare, which will be published in February, which shows that, during their policing career:

- 97% of officers had come into contact with a serious physical assault

- 99.5% had seen the body of somebody who had met a violent death

- 84.8% had attended to victims of a serious road accident

- And 66% had witnessed a violent or unnatural death, including a suicide.

Just under 62% of officers who responded to the survey had experienced one or more traumatic incidents within the last 12 months.

Mr Donald said: “Roads policing, child sexual exploitation and firearms are all high risk areas in terms of exposure to trauma. A College of Policing report last year on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in policing was a first – until now we’ve always relied on military studies.

“Unlike in the military, police officers do not have periods away from the front lines – you are the front lines. There are 18% fewer officers and policing has gone from a potentially proactive service to being a reactive service – we have officers going from one job to the next without the time to pause and let their brains process what they are experiencing.”

Che added: “What we’re doing for the first time is we’re capturing data. Everything has been anecdotal but now we’re trying to capture that data and establish the frequency.”

He added: “Officers are not robots - at the end of the day everyone is just a member of the public, putting on a uniform and performing a role.

“Over the course of 30-40 years for our cops, what are they exposed to … what is and what isn’t being processed correctly? That’s our worry.

“It might sound like a cliché, but we need to start focusing on people. At the moment, we’re focusing on trying to get to the jobs. If you don’t look after the people getting to those jobs you won’t get the jobs at all."

The Government has pledged £7.5m to support officer welfare but the funds have still not been directed to where they need to be, Che added.

He concluded: “Most roads policing officers look after their vehicles. They make sure that it’s clean, it’s got the correct tyre pressure, it’s got washer fluid etc.

“If you’re looking after your car to do your job, you’ve got to look after yourself to do the job. You must look after yourself, look after your own physical wellbeing, and if you start to notice changes in your wellbeing or other colleagues, it’s got to be addressed.

“You’ve got to assist, you’ve got to help, you’ve got to seek support.”