Eastern district police officers requested trauma counselling almost 200 times in the past five years.

Documents released to Hawke's Bay Today reveal the extent of work-related trauma and occupational stress for police employees.

Since 2011, 199 officers attended counselling or received psychological support to manage the effects of traumatic experiences.

Forty-four requested support last year and, according to the former chair of the Police Association's eastern district, the awareness and necessity of psychological support for officers was growing.


"It's an improving attitude. [Before the mid-2000s] no one ever went to see a counsellor or get independent psychological advice, regardless of the number of incidents they were involved in," said association vice-president Luke Shadbolt.

"It's a good, positive step - looking after the emotional health and psychological welfare of police staff."

Mr Shadbolt said Hawke's Bay had a particularly high rate of family violence, sexual abuse, child abuse and road trauma.

"Those are all incidents where you're dealing with other people's emotions on a very regular basis, and dealing with them in a very raw state. You try to stay impersonal and try not to get emotionally involved but, over a period of time, you can't help [it] - those kinds of things build up."

Mr Shadbolt said mental harm was not only caused by significant, traumatic incidents but by everyday exposure to smaller events.

"There is a significant cumulative effect of attending what appear to be day-to-day incidents that police always deal with but, in reality, they all take a little bit of an emotional and psychological toll on you," he said.

"We talk about the emotional bucket which fills up over time with little drips, and eventually it will overflow. We actually see that happen quite a bit."

Eastern District Commander Superintendent Sandra Venables said the statistics included referrals under both the police trauma policy and broader welfare matters through the Employee Assistance Programme.

"The figures are a positive demonstration that our staff will seek appropriate welfare assistance through the various options which are provided by New Zealand Police.

"There is no question that policing is a challenging and demanding role, which is why the well-being of all our staff is a priority."

She said there was a range of welfare options available, including welfare officers in each district, access to confidential counselling services and active monitoring of workloads throughout the organisation.

"Staff in particularly challenging roles are also provided with enhanced welfare support."

The numbers are an encouraging indication of both awareness of these services by staff, and their positive attitude to the benefits of seeking welfare support, Ms Venables said.

Labour's Police spokesman Stuart Nash said these statistics reflected the "massive amount" of pressure police were under.

The changing nature of crime, and the dropping of police numbers in the area, were putting Eastern District police under even more pressure.

"There is no doubt we need more police in the Eastern District," he said. "Staffing levels at the moment are unsustainable.

"If I was Minister of Police, I would be taking this issue [of under-resourcing] very seriously."

It was not an isolated problem, Mr Nash has called for Minister of Police Judith Collins to address the national falling ratio of police officers to members of the public, "making the job of policing this country even harder".

As crime increased last year, the number of police officers fell by 15 and New Zealand's population rose by 78,000, he said. "Since 2008, the number of police officers has increased by just 274 while New Zealand's population has increased by 274,000.

"That's just one extra police officer for every thousand additional Kiwis. [Prime Minister] John Key and Judith Collins promised to fund better than one officer for every 500 New Zealanders but, once again, they've failed to deliver."

Mr Nash said there had been funding for only half the additional police needed to keep up with population growth, which was not enough when the number of assaults and burglaries were "mushrooming" - citing a 6 per cent rise in assaults and a 14 per cent rise in burglaries this year.

In the Eastern District, the most frequent month for counselling requests was October 2015, when 23 officers sought support. This was equal with March 2011, the month after the Christchurch earthquake.

Mr Shadbolt said counselling was often mandatory for officers involved in particularly critical events, such as the Christchurch earthquake, but was available to officers by request at any time.

Police wellness and safety manager Marty Fox said the trauma policy was available to all police employees as "a support system [for] the psychological risks associated with policing generally".

Mr Fox said psychologists helped "minimise post-incident reactions and risk of developing ongoing psycho-social harm" but the support was not a replacement for good management, supervisory practices or personal coping skills.