Kiri is a digital journalist for bayofplentytimes.co.nz.

Trauma takes toll on Bay police officers

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Brent Crowe says the police force has come a long way in helping staff deal with trauma.
Brent Crowe says the police force has come a long way in helping staff deal with trauma.

A total of 112 police officers have sought counselling for work related issues in the Western Bay of Plenty over the past three years.

Data obtained by the Bay of Plenty Times under the Official Information Act shows this year to date there had been 22 police referrals to counselling for trauma, compared to 46 last year and 44 in 2014.

The reasons were for threats or assaults on staff, work-related reasons and many were for officers attending fatal crashes.

Regional director for the Waikato Bay of Plenty Police Association Scott Thompson said many officers got into the job because it was in their psyche to help people. This made the impact of some of the jobs they attended especially hard hitting, he said.

"The thing is that you can't really train for it.

"You can't have someone at police college train you to deal with fatal accidents, child assaults or serious crimes.

"For staff there are different triggers. It could be really simple things. Someone might have an accident on a road that they use or their family uses or a crime might involve a child when the officer has a young family," Mr Thompson said.

"We deal with the worst of the worst and the most horrific things."

Mr Thompson said another thing police struggled with was when people were seriously injured or abused "because it doesn't work with their psyche".

"That's not what humans should do with each other," he said.

"It doesn't help when you're at a fatal crash helping to clean up and someone abuses you because they're late for their coffee."

Bay of Plenty road policing manager Brent Crowe said Bay of Plenty officers had a strong culture of keeping an eye on each other "and keeping ourselves safe".

"In days gone by the ongoing or delayed effects of dealing with fatal road crashes may not have been that well understood or perhaps was viewed as just part of the job," he said.

"I think our organisation has matured now to the point where we are recognising those in need of assistance and providing the right support much earlier on. We are also fortunate to have the services of a very committed and professional welfare officer, whose main focus is staff wellness."

Mr Crowe said the support offered to staff was also available to families effected by traumatic events through organisations such as Victim Support.

New Zealand Police national manager for wellness Marty Fox said police work could sometimes be traumatic and disturbing leading to occupational stress and trauma for employees.

"Everyone has different reactions to stress and trauma. For some, the psychological impact of their involvement in particular serious incidents may be great. In other cases, it is the cumulative exposure to a number of events which adversely affects the wellbeing of employees."

Police officers were looked after by a trauma policy which provided access to appropriate psychological assessment and support for all employees to: assist in the maintenance of their health and wellbeing; minimise post-incident reactions and the risk of developing ongoing psychological harm; a timely and confidential response to employees following their attendance at critical incidents; and a support system which addressed the psychological risks associated with policing generally.

"This policy is not designed to replace good management, supervisory practices or personal coping skills. It is, however, a well-established support function for assisting employees maintain their psychological wellbeing," Mr Fox said.

The New Zealand police also offered a service in which staff could self-refer to an external provider for counselling.

Reasons for police counselling visits:

2014
- Fatal crashes: 16
- Threat/assault on officer: 1
- Work related: 27

2015
- Fatal crashes :8
- Threat/assault on officer: 3
- Work related: 27

2016, to May
- Fatal crashes: 2
- Threat/Assault on officer: 8

* Work related causes can vary and include debriefings to minimise post-incident reactions and risks of work-related psychological harm.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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