Stress and PTSD, quite current. Lots of talk about it and quite rightly so. Do our Police Forces understand it? Not sure, but they never used to, although I have to say that the differences across the country are immense.
Many, many years ago, in the days of Crystal Sets and Black and White square TV screens (well 1987 actually) I took part in a BBC documentary. It was one of the Horizon series of documentaries entitled The John Wayne Syndrome. The subject matter was Stress in the Police Force, “Horizon investigates the effect of stress on police officers and how their increasing job pressures affect their health and relationship with the public. “
When the Producer first sought volunteers to take part in this programme he wrote an open letter to (presumably) all Police Forces asking for examples of stress within the Police Force. I was in the middle of a period of disenchantment with the Met at that particular time and thought to myself “Stress in the Police Force? I’ll bloody tell him about stress in the Police Force” and replied to his letter.
Months went by and I’d heard nothing until one Friday, my wife got a message to me at work saying that the BBC had been on the on the phone and wanted to send a film crew round on the Monday morning to interview me for the programme.
It took about a nano-second for the penny to drop that in the middle of my angst, and convinced that the Beeb wouldn’t be interested in my story, I had spectacularly failed to ask the Met’s permission to take part in this programme. I set about finding a guvnor, only to discover that there was a Service Funeral that day and the only senior officer I could find was a lonely Chief Inspector.
He was obviously a good, Bramshill-trained guvnor because his immediate reaction was “I can’t make a decision on this, I’ll have to find someone at Area”.
The end of my shift came, still no decision, Friday evening was looming and…….nothing.
Home I went still uncertain what I was supposed to do about Monday morning.
About 5 o’clock just as the missus was about to do dinner the phone rang. I answered the phone only to find a Deputy Assistant Commissioner on the other end. Actually it was DAC Richard ‘Dickie’ Wells, a boss I actually had a lot of time for. Having heard my side of the story he made an on-the-spot decision that I could not take part in the programme.
Plucking up as much bravado as I could muster on a Friday evening, I replied with “OK Sir, fair enough, but they also want to interview my wife and she’s not in the Job, she can say whatever the hell she likes”. “I’ll call you back” responded Dickie.
About an hour later he called back and decided that he WOULD grant permission for me to take part in this documentary as long as I agreed for somebody from the Met’s Publicity Department to be present whilst it was filmed. To their eternal credit this lady did not interfere with as much as one single word.
The morning was spent interviewing me and Mrs Angry in our home and then I was whisked off to take part in a simulated counselling session in the afternoon.
Eventually the programme was aired and I got to see what other contributions had been made. I was gobsmacked that SOME other Forces dealt with Stress far more proactively than the Mighty Met.
The one example that will always stay with me was the Bradford City Football Ground fire. According to the officers interviewed for the programme the support shown to them by their Force (West Yorkshire I believe) was First Class.
Four police officers, Police Constables David Britton and John Richard Ingham and Chief Inspectors Charles Frederick Mawson and Terence Michael Slocombe, and two spectators, Richard Gough and David Hustler, were awarded the Queen’s Gallantry Medal for their actions. PCs Peter Donald Barrett and David Charles Midgley, along with spectators Michael William Bland and Timothy Peter Leigh received the Queen’s Commendation for Brave Conduct. In total, 28 police officers and 22 supporters, who were publicly documented as having saved at least one life, later received police commendations or bravery awards. Together, flanked by undocumented supporters, they managed to clear all but one person who made it to the front of the stand.
Not one single officer who took part in the programme was in any way critical of the support and counselling they had received from their Force in the aftermath of this tragedy.
The Met’s corporate reaction in those days is likely to have been something like “Right lad, see you for Early Turn tomorrow, but don’t worry if you ‘Do it in’ a bit”.
So what’s it like 25-30 years later? I’m not awfully sure to be honest, but following on from a conversation with my reader I made a request of his/her home Force (difficult to tell who’s who with all these anon accounts).
I asked them two simple questions, the second of which was
Could you please inform me how many officers have been suffering
from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as above within the last two
years, and how many of those have been Medically Retired?
They refused to answer on the grounds that
this data is not recorded on our systems in a way that can be easily abstracted because all periods of sickness are recorded on each individual’s personal record. This will be inclusive of psychological conditions such as anxiety, depression etc. To extract the information in response to your request, we would therefore need to review each relevant employee’s sickness record with a view to establishing what the symptoms and circumstances were.
and it would be too expensive to extract that data for me.
So there you have it, 2014, and at least one of Her Majesty’s Constabularies don’t actually know how many of their officers are suffering from Stress or PTSD. That’s encouraging isn’t it.
If my reader wants me to ‘Name That Force’ and embarrass them I’m happy to do so, but their decision not mine.