Assaults, Cuts and Mental Illness

Ben Fox
Ben Fox

Life on the front line of Devon and Cornwall Policing

In the last eight years, more than 1000 police officers have been signed off work with mental illness relating to stress, figures obtained by the Moorlander reveal.

Between January 2010 and March 2018, 1043 officers were signed off on Long Term Sick Leave due to mental health issues with 56 signed off with PTSD, 637 with ‘Any Stress’ and 596 with ‘Other Stress’.

This is the equivalent to over a third of the 2800-strong Devon and Cornwall force.

Across England and Wales police constabularies, there has been a 72% increase in mental health issues while officer numbers have dropped by 16% nationally.

In Devon and Cornwall, the number of ‘Officers Available for Duty’ has fallen from 3520 in March 2010, to 2840 as of March 2017 – a loss of 680 officers. We spoke to Sergeant Harry Tangye of the Exeter Operations Unit about life on the thin blue line:

“Having been on front line duties over the past 28 years, I have seen, over that time, many changes within policing, but with this time span of 8 years specifically, it takes in the period of austerity and the huge cut backs to policing. My personal view is that in order to save such funds, canteens and bars were the first things to go and indeed many police stations closed too. This was a national trend forced by cut backs generally to prevent further reductions in officer numbers.

‘The resulting position is less police to carry out more work which becomes more bureaucratic by the day, with officers covering larger geographical areas.”

Substantiating Harry’s view, The Moorlander discovered from a Dartmoor resident that her two sons had been involved in an unprovoked attack in central Bristol on Sunday night and she was told by the sole (and small) female officer sent out that only three police offers were available to cover the whole of central Bristol that night. Additionally, another Dartmoor resident had been told that often the traffic police are asked to help out, which raises the issue of whether they are suitably trained and up to speed with the skills needed or have sufficient knowledge of the area and its locals.

“There is very little time to defuse as once was common in the first part of my service. Most of us know how it is to destress with friends and colleagues over a pint! Officers can attend work and self-brief, deal with all sorts of atrocities and go home again possibly to an empty house, or to a house with other everyday problems we all face generally.

‘The feeling officers have from the Government is generally that they are just a number now, officers have generally been told by the Government they are racist, they are prejudiced with stop search, any criminal can make a ridiculous complaint and they are immediately treated like victims, and yet the officers themselves receive next to no recognition by the judicial system when they are themselves victims in quite serious assaults. I have seen the community that was has gone…and the drip drip of political and media attacks have done little to help the situation.

‘Believe it or not, I still enjoy coming to work and doing what’s right, as most my colleagues do, but I am finding that more and more are ready to move on. We are very fortunate in Devon and
Cornwall, with a Command team that takes welfare extremely seriously and supports it however they possibly can. They are very aware it is crucial for destressing, but with finances stripped to the bone, it is an almost impossible pressure to ease now.

‘Systems are there to support officers and to help them have a speedy return, but there is little in place nationally, to prevent that decline in the first place.”

This all follows the revelation that, in 2016, there were 492 police officers and staff assaulted while on duty, with 60 of those cases being classed as actual bodily harm. In one night alone in April, there were 10 assaults on officers in Devon and Cornwall. This led to Chief Superintendent Jim Colwell writing: “Do you know what… I am getting sick of this! 10 x assaults on officers overnight, including kicks, punches, head butts and of course the obligatory spitting (x3). Our staff face this day in day out, in order to keep our communities safe. How comfortable does that make you feel?”

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