Belfast Telegraph

PSNI bosses dispute ex-officer's claim of little help for those suffering from stress

By Michael McHugh

Some PSNI officers have "washed their hands" of welfare issues, a former sergeant has said.

But the force's Deputy Chief Constable Drew Harris disputed the claim and said 398 officers and staff used a special helpline over the last 10 months, while 169 had received counselling.

The police's occupational health department offered almost 900 appointments a month.

Some officers present with symptoms consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder following a service involving difficult events dating back to the Troubles and more recently.

Mr Harris said: "Our society is becoming more fraught so more is required of us, and other front line responders."

He added: "Vulnerability and then the crime and tragedy that comes from that is increasing in our society, you see that.

"It is very different from when I joined the police. In effect, we are a small number of people dealing with more of this stuff."

The ex-sergeant, who left the force in 2013, said civilianisation as part of peace process reforms made the system inflexible and less human.

"If you are an officer now and you can wash your hands of it and say we have the staff to do that, it does not have to touch you or blemish your copybook or alter your promotion."

He said he twice faced unsubstantiated and unfounded workplace allegations, and that he was made to feel like a criminal, "guilty until proven innocent".

He said: "Years ago officers were forged in fire, they had been through terrible times, they had witnessed friends dying, they had commanded over losing men.

"Nowadays, you have an officer coming up who has no responsibility or has, what the Tories in Government like to talk about, their portfolio. And that is his responsibility, full stop."

The officer's own mental health difficulties were partly linked to the death of a colleague who shot himself. He said he had raised unprocessed files with the dead man, although he said the victim killed himself over an unrelated reason, leaving two children behind.

He said: "I dissolved, I could not stand up, I chain-smoked, I cried, the wife did not know what had happened, she could not understand. I could not sleep or eat, in your head was only: 'why'?."

Mr Harris said the PSNI had invested heavily in occupational health, and modern grievance procedures had been in place 15 years.

Meanwhile, the Police Federation for Northern Ireland has said the time police spend waiting to see a psychologist has fallen from 19 weeks to 10 days.

Federation chairman Mark Lindsay said the group, which represents rank-and-file officers, had put in £1m of its own members' money to speed up processes and improve resilience. "Policing is a very high-pressured environment which over an officer's career sees them build up quite traumatic experiences over a long number of years.

"This is all combined with the everyday pressures and stresses and strains that we see.

"There needs to be proper cognisance taken of the impact that this environment has on people's mental health."

Belfast Telegraph

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