Taking its Toll

It seems to me that we, as a society, owe a remarkable debt to police officers and their civilian colleagues.

Pause for a moment to think about what we ask of the men and women in blue – what we expect of them.

Amongst the humdrum and the routine, we expect them to go where most wouldn’t and to do what most couldn’t:

  • Into the hurting places
  • Into the dangerous places
  • Into the damaged places
  • Into the violent places
  • Into the broken places
  • Into the frightening places
  • Into the confusing places, where nothing is quite as it seems
  • Into the distressing places
  • Into the thin spaces between life and death

And we expect them to deal with what they find there.

They don’t always get it right – sometimes they get it very wrong – but, mostly, they carry out their duties with immense courage, remarkable compassion and endless humanity. I, for one, am grateful to them.

And, alongside a debt of gratitude, we also owe them a far greater level of understanding about the impact that working life can have on them – about the scars that they carry, both seen and unseen.

Some of them are hurting you see.

I have my own story to tell – though I’ll save that for the pages of a book called ‘Blue’. For now, let me just suggest that there are any number of reasons why we need to be a whole lot more bothered about the health and wellbeing of coppers and their colleagues.

Simple Wear & Tear

There’s no other job that comes close to this one in terms of the simple wear and tear that officers and staff are subject to over the course of a policing life:

  • The inevitable realities of shift working
  • Extended hours worked over prolonged periods of time
  • Endless trauma
  • Extraordinary complexity
  • Relentless demand
  • The fact that very few people phone the police to say that they’re having a good day
  • The hostility that characterises so many encounters between the police and those they are called upon to deal with

And it would be strange if police officers didn’t absorb a little of the pain – a little of the strain – somewhere along the way.

Over time, it takes its toll.

Faces & Places

Beyond the general wear and tear, every police officer will be able to tell you about the individual faces and places that leave a deeper mark than any other:

  • The blood soaked murder scenes
  • The fatal crashes
  • The cot deaths
  • The armed and violent men
  • The troubled, haunted children
  • The sobbing mothers
  • The carnage that happens beyond the sight of most of us
  • The unavoidable horror of it all

As a society, I don’t think we’ve even begun to understand the compound impact on police officers and staff of the repeated exposure to extreme trauma.

The Demands of Today

Whilst remembering all that has gone before, there are also the unavoidable demands of today:

  • Punishing workloads
  • Relentless deadlines
  • Covering for colleagues who are struggling
  • Encounters with bad management
  • The complex consequences of austerity
  • The endless hostile commentary about policing offered by anyone with an armchair and an opinion

And that tension that exists for all of us between work and life.

A Life Story

Because it can’t all be just about the job. Everyone has their own life story too. And, amongst all that is wonderful, there are:

  • The demands of life
  • The challenges of life
  • The sorrows of life
  • The flat out pace of life

And the natural, normal, human thing is to feel, to grieve, to hurt sometimes.

Closing Remarks

That last observation is true of all of us of course.

But not all of us are police officers.

Not all of us have been in the places they’ve been.

Not all of us have seen the things that they’ve seen.

Not all of us have confronted, time and again, the very worst that human beings are capable of.

Not all of us have sat in the silence at the end of a shift and played it over and over in our minds.

Not all of us have struggled to make some kind of sense of it all.

Where police officers suffer – physically, emotionally, psychologically, in any kind of way – as a consequence of their service, the rest of us have an absolute responsibility to look after them.

A duty even.

Because they are the everyday heroes and heroines who police our streets – and, every now and then, they need a helping hand.

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15 thoughts on “Taking its Toll

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  1. As a Police Inspector with 24 years service and having just been told I have work related PTSD, I would like like to say thank you for your articles. I don’t feel as mad now.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Insightful as always thanks. You mention the hostility officers often face from those they have to deal with, I would now add to that hostility from sectors of the establishment who were traditionally supportive – from the top downwards. For several years we had a Home Secretary (now the P.M.) who seemed to make it clear from her statements and actions that she didn’t care much for the police. Criticism followed criticism and cuts followed cuts – cuts not not only to police forces but also to individual officers pay and conditions all added to the perception that there is an agenda to punish them. But those individual officers keep doing their best …….

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  3. Our boss just states dry your eyes and move on or get another job on public media, as terrorists try to kill us on a regular basis!!

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  4. A true and honest representation of the rigours working on the frontline. Similar experiences for fire, ambulance, nursing and medical but we are expected to be able to cope because we chose to serve in that way by public, management and government. Well done for standing up for being human

    Liked by 1 person

  5. It’s refreshing that you recognise many of the remarkable qualities needed to just do this job. What is distressing is that not all senior management acknowledge the team spirit needed to carry each other through some of those times and are insistent on eroding it with constant pressure to work alone, self deploy, stay out of the station, take breaks in public view and be less reliant on supervision. It’s the team ethos that gives officers support for each other and ‘keeps you going’ when it gets tough and no one else ‘gets it’. Please don’t break it, it’s done us proud up until now.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No matter what certain senior management have always thought this is what enables police officers to carry on. THE TEAM with you, around you ,in front of you,.behind you. A good team with good leaders are what makes us what were are or were. It was always and is your team or your crew mate who caries you through every day be it good ,bad or life changing.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Brilliant article!
    It would be refreshing for the organisation to sit up and take notice. We know this government won’t and neither will the opposition.
    I’m currently undergoing counselling for PTSD as a result of incidents in and out of work. Who sorted the counselling??
    MYSELF. Organisation show a complete lack of interest even whilst recently off for over 2 months.
    Bobbies and staff need to look after themselves.

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  7. First of all, thank you for highlighting the real situation many serving officers & police staff face, along with the many challenges it brings. I know this in itself offers support to those struggling with the demands doing the job brings. It is really helpful to many to have their real-life challenges stated for all to see. I hope also, that it helps those MoP to understand what we ask of our police staff and why they may not always get an immediate response that tends to their own needs. Though I am sure most warranted officers & staff try their best.

    The daily grind of being faced with the worst of public life, and picking up the emergencies left behind by cuts in other services doesn’t help. Then there is shift work, Not being able to finish on time, cancelled leave, lack of breaks, criticism in press of doing refs in public -when bosses recommend this & frankly officers have no choice. Missing out on PTA evenings, school events, family/friend events – never mind sleep,family time, hobbies, I could go on… but you could more accurately describe it, I’m sure.

    There are many MoPs who do support & understand the trials police officers face, but some may not & media do not help – sadly they tend to be loudest voices. This doesn’t mean they are the majority, really. But one of the biggest problems is that the Police have become the last Blue Light service who is responding to anything /everything & has somehow become the only one that will take any criticism – justified or otherwise. They won’t blame health, MH in particular, social services, probation, local authority, etc in public, but accept all failures as their own. I give them immense credit for not “passing the buck”, but there has to come a point where the Police accept responsibility for their bit, but not act as scapegoat for other partners dropping the ball – sometimes spectacularly.

    It has taken a long time to improve the “cultural” myths about what it takes to be a serving – or supporting- officer, in terms of gender, sexuality, personal skills, dedication/effort at all costs, etc. For the record they are NOT exclusive to the police force, but are in insidious ways shared by many emergency/heath/social/public services. That well worn phrase “It’s part of the job” to describe physical assault, never mind the endless verbal abuse, and many other situations, like being spat at, sitting in homes that Porton Down would have trouble identifying all the microbes. But my experience is that all services, police included, are taking backward steps with this. Not an unknown phenomenom in times of service/economical stress.

    And then, I have to say some things that may be hard to hear. Forces have for many many years failed to provide support to officers and staff the physical, never mind the psychological support needed. To some extent that has improved over recent times, but is again being reduced, apparently due to funding & staffing issues, at a time when stresses are at their highest and likely rising! AND I am sorry to say fellow officers are part of problem. I understand the stresses of seeing fellow officers go on sick leave – ever adding to the burden of those left behind – WHICH let’s be honest is the main reason officers don’t report problems sooner – they don’t want to add to workload to colleagues. And senior officers often don’t help for same reasons – person off sick / no replacement – no change in targets, increased duties for staff remaining – possible increase in sickness reporting – HR stats, further explanations. Tragically it becomes a situation in which previously supportive colleagues, at all levels, become “enemies” to appease system. I have treated all police staff for many reasons, often successfully, BUT the last remaining obstacle to return to previous work – was loss of trust in colleagues, and sadly this was at level of team -mate. Often people felt a degree of ability to challenge system through HR/legal avenues, but felt – apart from close friends – that they would be judged very negatively by staff at same/similar level in a bad way. I truly don’t believe this is the ambition of any warranted officer, or police support staff, but is the unintended consequence of the whole stressed system.

    We have an amazing and exceptional police force, that we have given strict protocols to. Please let us support them, wholeheartedly, in the job we ask them to do, with the constraints we apply. AND PLEASE CAN WE LET THEM HAVE A DECENT & HEALTHY LIFE, WITH THEIR FAMILY & FRIENDS TOO

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    Liked by 1 person

  9. Sir,
    We have met, at a Federation Seminar. I have the greatest respect and admiration for your openness and honesty about the Police family and all things relating to the thin blue line.
    I have 27 years police service and am currently a Detective with a Shire force. Over the past 10 years my mental health has declined rapidly, owing largely to the job I do. I currently am prescribed anti depressants, anti psychotics and lithium. I need these Medstead just to exist.
    I regularly have to work 50hrs plus overtime a month, just to get the job done, there is no one else!!! I have defied doctors, physiatrists advice to take time off. I don’t because I don’t want to let my victims and witnesses down. I don’t want to let my colleagues down. There are 5.5 left, we’re 12 months ago there were 12.
    My marriage and relationship with my kids suffers, as I limp on till my days off then collapse in a heap, no good for anything, charging my batteries until it all starts again.
    I used to love everything about this noble profession, successive governments and weak leadership at ACPO level have beaten it out of me.
    I’m counting down the days until I can retire, but I really don’t think I’m going to make it!
    Fantastic book by the way!!!

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  10. fantablus peeps where would england b wihhout thoes boys and girls in blue and hats off to there canine friends i am so pleased ive god a small bit of rap on u tube thank thanks them all THE COLOUR BLUE SO KEEP UP YOUR FANTABLUS WORK KIND REGARDS JAMES (G DAD INNIT X

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