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Red-flagging officers who are exposed to multiple trauma incidents

The Federation’s Wellbeing Lead says that forces should be monitoring the levels of trauma and incidents that officers are exposed to.

Forces in England and Wales need to begin tracking officers' exposure to potential trauma on a daily basis, the Fed’s Wellbeing Lead has said. 

Such a move, she suggests, would monitor how many potentially traumatic incidents an officer is exposed to, therefore allowing for mitigations to be put in place - perhaps by way of interventions, or simply distributing incidents between officers differently. 

Just recently, retired Detective John Cahill won damages after submitting that he suffered a breach of duty at the hands of his force through lack of risk assessments and support procedures. He suffered from PTSD after prolonged exposure to child abuse images. 

“I think we’re just at the tip of the iceberg now,” Belinda Goodwin, who served in the Met since 2002 and has been a Fed rep for nine years, told Police Oracle. 

“We're going to start seeing officers actually attribute this to the role that they're doing as a police officer - they’re going to come out and say that it's made them mentally ill.” 

In the past two years, since the Fed moved to a new service provider - Defence Medical Welfare Service - they have had over 5,000 officers make contact around issues of mental health and vicarious trauma, nearly 600 receiving support with around 25-35 referrals per month. 

“There is not a force in England and Wales that collates officer trauma on a day-to-day basis, and that's what we're missing. 

“You cannot tell me in 2023 there's no software that could collect that.” 

The system she envisages would use a grading process for incidents. The sudden death of a three month old, for example, would receive a red flag. Then that red flag would be attached to the shoulder number of whichever officer attends. 

An IT system could monitor how many ‘red flag’ incidents a given officer attends and after a certain number that officer could be offered an intervention, their supervisor given a heads up, or simply the next red flag incident that comes in could go to a different officer instead. 

Ms Goodwin explained: “Any sudden death is hard because you're trying to manage the family etc but during COVID we had to do a lot more in order to preserve that body. 

“Officers I know had 15 sudden deaths in one shift. How is that allowed?

“It should be ‘okay you've been to two red flagged incidents - both sudden deaths or whatever it is- the next sudden death that comes out, I don’t want you going.’ 

“That’s a way of managing it real time but actually managing it more widely as well - you’ve now been to six red incidents, is there anything we can do to support you?” 

It’s something she has been calling for for a while, and she explained that things are starting to move. 

Dr Jessica Miller from Police Care UK has created a ‘Traumatic Events Checklist’. However, while a step in the right direction, for Ms Goodwin it still relies too much on personal responsibility. 

Covid isn’t the only factor that has compounded the picture for policing. Ms Goodwin underlines that the recent criminal cases involving officers, alongside the media coverage of them, is resulting in more frequent negative interactions with the public. 

“There's no getting away from the fact that they were police officers at the end of the day, but we’re all tarred with that brush. 

“I spoke to a lot of Met officers [recently] and they said they’re sick of being called a rapist and a paedophile. 

“The media get hold of it and it's almost like people feel the right to shout at you, spit at you and assault you - that’s why I feel assaults on police have gone through the roof.” 

For new recruits in particular, she’s concerned that it’s leading to a reluctance to go ‘hands-on’. 

“The newer in service are backing off a lot more because they've been told to use their communication skills a bit more, which is great, but how much can you communicate with someone who is on drink and drugs?"

She said they also worry about getting a complaint or someone videoing it and then being tarred with the same brush.

“Everyday we’re putting people away, locking people up, everyday saving lives but you don't hear about [that in the media].” 

As the Wellbeing Lead, the situation she would like to see would include attempts to mitigate exposure to trauma, regular screening and a knowledge of officers’ personal experience particularly if they are working in certain units (are there any aggravating factors for them when they’re dealing with certain incidents). 

Mitigations to exposure could be something as simple as turning the sound off on a video if an officer needs to watch it multiple times, she added. 

She also wants mandatory mental health screening for every officer. 

“We do Police and Public Safety Training every 12 months - it's mandated and if you don’t you're out of ticket and taken off the frontline until you are up to scratch. 

“We need to start doing that from the neck up.

“Until the Chiefs start putting the welfare need in front of the operational need in 10 years' time someone will still be sitting here saying the same things.”

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