Belfast Telegraph

Fears over workload pressures in PSNI as 17 officers take own lives in 15 years

By Michael Sheils McNamee

Seventeen PSNI officers have died by suicide in the last 15 years, it can be revealed.

Figures released under Freedom of Information show that is almost 20% of the 96 officers who have died on and off duty since 2002.

Of the 15 who died on duty in that time, seven lost their lives as a result of traffic accidents and three died by suicide.

Two died as a result of terrorism, two from natural causes, and one after an accident.

Of the 81 officers who died off duty, 14 took their own lives.

It has led to calls for more help for front line emergency service workers.

The Police Federation, which represents all ranks up to Chief Inspector, called the figures "a frightening commentary on what is actually happening".

It said: "Behind all of these figures are stories of tragedy and we shouldn't lose sight of the high price that families continue to pay for having loved ones serving the Northern Ireland community.

"Policing today places huge demands on the individual. The service is seriously under-strength, which means fewer officers have to do much more.

"That places great stress, not only on the individual, but on families. Many suffer long-term psychological illnesses, which we are seeking to address. Many have their lives badly disrupted, and this impacts dreadfully on families and relationships."

It added that the organisation worked with charities to support the families of its members.

PSNI Deputy Chief Constable Drew Harris said: "The death of any police officer or police staff member, whether through suicide or any other circumstance, is an absolute tragedy. As a police service, we continually work to ensure that we do everything possible to protect and support our staff to ensure that the risks and pressures of both work, and outside of work, are minimised.

"Policing is a very challenging, and at times dangerous, role and one where officers and staff are frequently faced with having to deal with very difficult, traumatic and tragic circumstances.

"As an organisation we are very aware of the personal impact this can bring, and the proactive and follow-up support that is needed. As a police service we have invested significantly in a range of support services and have one of the most comprehensive and progressive occupational health and well-being departments of any UK police service."

He said officers were offered a range of services to help with physical and mental well-being, including a 24/7 counselling service.

Martina McIlkenny of suicide awareness charity PIPS said: "We feel that more resources need to be implemented in all the front line services - PSNI, Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service and the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service.

"We have talked to the services, who are overworked and under extreme pressure to do much more with less resources.

"Psychological illnesses are wide-ranging, with one thing in common: they are exacerbated by the sometimes intolerable pressures of a demanding and heavily-scrutinised job.

"The creation of a supportive, caring and understanding environment, where officers can freely avail of professional help, would be a first positive step."

The Patten Report, published in 1999, set PSNI staffing at 7,600.

PSNI figures from the start of last month show a figure of 6,682 officers.

Belfast Telegraph

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