We are currently experiencing network problems with the desktop version of Police Oracle. We hope to have these resolved as soon as possible.

‘Desperately sad to see good officers breaking and having to leave a job they loved’

Relentless daily emotional trauma sees Britain's most prolific arrest cop quit while another goes ‘before reaching that point’

Policing has been left “deeply saddened” as an award-winning officer with the highest recorded arrest rate went from hero to zero after being "so badly broken” by PTSD he was forced to quit the service.

Last month Sergeant Ali Livingstone – dubbed ‘Robocop’ and ‘Supercop’ – walked away from the job he has loved for nearly two decades after admitting he could no longer take the relentless daily “accumulation of exposure to emotional trauma”.

Britain’s most prolific frontline officer – some 5,000 arrests in an 18-year career with more suspects detained in one week than most manage in a year – was the “last person” fellow Suffolk colleagues thought would fall victim to a mental breakdown.

Today he has a new, undisclosed, job outside policing but by breaking his silence he wants to help those left “fighting the good fight” to learn from his experience – planning to chart the last "debilitating and devastating" 15 months in a book.

Speaking to BBC Radio Suffolk, the 36-year-old said: "I went from being the UK's top arresting officer to being so troubled by what I'd seen and done in the line of duty that I've had to walk away from the very job that defined me.

“Right up until last year I was a round peg in a round hole and I was really enjoying it.

“I thought I’d be in it for life. I never foresaw that I would ever leave the police, let alone under the circumstances I did.”

The Ipswich-based officer began his service in 2001 as an 18-year-old.

Those first few years were a “real enjoyment” where he was a difference, progressing to frontline operational response sergeant, tactical advisor, negotiator and police search advisor.

He was constantly mentioned in despatches – a headline-maker.

In 2008, alongside PC Ali Maidment, a suicidal man who tried to leap from a nine-storey car park was saved. 

The following year, the officer pairing was nominated for bravery awards after dragging a woman from a burning building in Ipswich.

Also in that year he gained the ultimate accolade of  Britain's highest recorded arrest rate –with 524 people held between April 2008 and March 2009. The average number of arrests by a police officer in one year at the time was just nine, according to a report by the Institute of Public Policy Research.

But he admits that although he didn’t see the mental health issues coming, at least one of his close colleagues did.

“One of my best friends told me a week before it happened, you’re a man on the edge,” he said.

And his breakdown in March 2018 came in the strangest of settings.

He was working on a football policing project, and found himself attending a Manchester United v Liverpool game at Old Trafford.

Sgt Livingstone was checking into the hotel before the match and, in his own words, he “crashed and burned”. He caught the first train back from Manchester, which was going to London.

“I was crying on the train and no one asked me if I was OK,” he added.

The whole event “hit me like a bus”, adding that he felt so poorly he had “no context of place and time”.

He attempted to go back several times to work but he says his “resiliience had been shattered”, never fully returning. He finished in December and resigned in June this year.

How had this happened?

He added: "It was an accumulation of exposure to trauma, like house fires, fatal car crashes, murders for example, but also speaking to bereaved families, seeing families being split up. For me that's the hidden harm. You're always faced with those raw emotions.

"Gore is something most cops can deal with, but when you're dealing with emotional trauma it becomes relentless being faced with it on a daily basis.”

How did he cope with the breakdown?

He said: "When your PTSD, depression and anxiety is anchored around policing, you have to decide whether to carry on or not," he said.

"I thought I had a good understanding of mental health, having encountered it on a daily basis.

"In truth I was completely ignorant. I don't see that as a failing on my part, as we can't be experts in everything, but I do want to use my experience to help others, particularly those charged with keeping the public safe.

"When I was off work I didn't tell anyone, and no-one at work was told why I was off initially. That wouldn't happen if I had been injured in a crash or something like that.

“That's where the stigma still exists, and I think it exists everywhere.”

How is policing dealing with mental health issues in its own ranks?

He added: “The police are working on it, doing what they can.

“Generally in society we are only just taking these first few steps.

"We are going in the right direction when it comes to mental health, but I think we've only just scratched the surface.

No single event triggered his PTSD, Sgt Livingstone said, praising the support he received from a Suffolk force which takes it duty of care to all employees “very seriously”.

National Police Federation chairman John Apter said of Sgt Livingstone’s decision: “It is desperately sad to see good officers breaking and having to leave a job they once loved.

“The pressures on my colleagues are intolerable and policing must do more to support its own, much more”.

Meanwhile, a Devon and Cornwall detective sergeant has decided to quit the service – before it takes over his whole life.

DS Chris Phillips has informed his social media base he has tendered his resignation to the force before he reaches breaking point with his work and life balance.

The father of two young children says he fears they would grow up without him ever being there if he didn't leave now.

"I’ve been given an opportunity to tip that balance in favour of my family for the first time in years. My wife summed it up by saying that over the last couple of years when I’m home I’ve not been home mentally.

"I feel that the first two years of my daughter’s life have flown by, and I have been a spectator to this. I’m not repeating this with my son.

“I have seen colleagues and friends go off sick with stress related incidents. I don’t want to be the next.

"I would like to put on record that bosses offered all they could do to support me, but my heart is not in it anymore. I have massive respect for every member of the police family who continue to do the best they can.

“For me my time is up as I want and have to put my family first.”

Leave a Comment
View Comments 15
In Other News
IOPC identifies 'missed opportunity' in GMP's search for missing man
Former senior Met officer has case to answer for gross misconduct
Suffolk Police praised for ending reign of ‘Bungay Mafia’
More News