I want to talk about mental health, and specifically about cops that have to leave their careers early – and just how f*cking awful it is for them.
I know all public sectors struggle with those things, but policing is markedly different.
Let me explain.
For a start – Police Officers are not employees. Employment law doesn’t apply to cops – which takes away a lot of protection. Supervisors and bosses get away with terrible management styles and there is very often little or nothing the officer can do about it. Cops can lodge grievances, but they just plaster over the issue, and there’s no way any low rank can honestly make use of the grievance procedure against senior ranks and have anything come of it. I’ve sat in meetings with Chief Superintendents that have openly lied and then denied it the next day. So what? Nobody believes you.
We don’t have a union either, and it’s unlawful for police officers to strike or withdraw their labour. What we have is the Police Federation. A mostly toothless organisation made up of police officers volunteering to help other police officers navigate the complex world of police regs.
With that in mind, let’s go back to mental health and talk about how it can get so bad that it forces a cop to leave early.
First, we need to understand the job police officers do, attending murder scenes and child death and mass killings and mutilations and suicides and so on. That shit adds up. Some don’t get bothered by it. Others become haunted.
But another facet of policing that a lot of people don’t realise is that a uniform police officer is at the lowest point in the food chain in terms of policing. What that means is every office dwelling, 9-5ing, righteous, holier-than-though fuckstick gets to tell the uniform cop how to do their job. (I’ve been out for a few years but note how quickly that irritation came back.)
I’ll give you an example. You’re a uniform PC on a night shift. Your team is under resourced – which they always are. And let’s say, during your night shift, that a 15-year-old hasn’t returned home to their foster carer at the time they were told to. That foster carer must then report that child as a missing person and a cop must be dispatched to take a missing report from that foster carer and that cop must then make enquiries to find and return that 15-year-old. (It’s often the case that the 15-year-old does that every night, and every night they have to take a new report, and find the kid, and return it.) But it’s not just finding the kid. You must take the report and apply risk assessments and grade it as low / medium / high risk. And once you’ve applied scoring matrixes to a 15-year-old in and out of social care with possible exposure to alcohol and drugs then it’s always going to be a minimum of medium risk, often high-risk if that child has ever self-harmed – which then means a greater amount of resources being applied to find them. Once the kid is found then more reports must be completed, including reports about where the kid went. If you don’t do those things, and anything happens to that kid you will be super fucked in the most super fucked up way possible. Disciplined and quite possibly prosecuted.
Then let’s say on our night shift there’s a road vehicle collision with injury.
Remember – we’re on a night shift. Most Roads Policing Units (Traffic cops) don’t work nights. So the bog standard PC’s turn up and have to assess what’s happened and look for possible causes and get accounts from witnesses, and arrange for the vehicles to be recovered. If the driver has been taken to hospital, then you must determine if you attend to request a breath sample for drink driving, or if the driver is receiving treatment you might have to go through the procedure of getting a doctor to take a blood sample (all of which involves many, many forms to fill in.)
But wait. Your night shift isn’t over. There’s a domestic coming in. All units respond and arrive to see a man and a woman in a smashed-up house both with injuries and both drunk and both blaming the other and both wanting to be the victim while both wanting to fight the police. Trust me. That is verrrrry common. Who do you arrest? The man? Cos, you know, all men are abusers? Or the woman? Cos, you know, women can be abusers too? Or both? Or neither? Seriously. What the fuck do you do? Cos whatever course of action you take will be dissected and torn apart the following day when the office dwellers boot up their computers after a restful eight-hour sleep.
You arrest both. Which means convincing the custody sergeant that two people must be admitted into their custody department. Some custody sergeants are good. Sadly, a lot turn into complete pricks that don’t want the risk of anyone being in their custody ever, no matter what they’ve done. Honestly. You could arrest a serial killer and some custody sergeants will be like arrange a voluntary interview on day shift, I am not booking them in.
But you do get both into custody – which means many, many more forms.If they are drunk – and our suspects are drunk – then they have to be bedded down until sober cos you can’t interview drunk people. That means preparing a handover file. Also, if there were kids in the house – who is looking after them? And if you did find someone you have to submit forms saying who they are, and more forms about the kids.
Burglary in progress. FUCK! Go go go. Every copper wants to turn out for a burglary in progress. You all turn out. The offender runs. You give chase. It’s a night shift. There’s no dog unit on. You ask for air support. Noooooooo. Fuck off. You can’t have it. But hold the phone! He’s tripped trying to get over a fence. You’ve got him! Shit! He’s fighting. It’s dark. You’re on your own. He’s scared and pumped up. You’re scared and pumped up.
He looks like this
A: Punch him? B: Headlock him? C: Wrestle him to the ground? D: Pepper spray him, or CS or whatever your force uses. E: Taser him F: Draw your baton and risk breaking his arm?
Cos whatever you do while both you and he are scared and alone and fighting in the dark will be dissected and torn apart by the office-dwellers the next day -and very possibly land you in either disciplinary proceedings for excessive force, or in court for assault.
You taser him… And now you have many, many, many more forms to do.
Plus, you still need to do the burglary report, and take a victim statement from the homeowner, and write up that missing kid you had at the start of the shift, and don’t forget you’ve got two in custody from the domestic and the sergeant has changed their mind and wants them bailed. Now. Right now.
Aaaaand while you do all of that you are being recorded by your own body worn video system capturing every bloody utterance coming out of your mouth – which in effect places you under a level of scrutiny human beings are not designed for.
That’s your night shift. Which you do while you are very sleepy cos a lot of cops struggle sleeping during the day. Nights also make you crave salt and sugar which makes you feel shittier.
You come back on the next day shift to many, many, many emails from the aforesaid office-dwelling troll fucksticks all ripping you apart cos you literally did nothing right and all of them could do it better. That’s not just cops telling you that either. It’s civvies that can’t even police their own office fridges.
You do that for let’s say, oooh two or three decades. You might specialise. You might go into other departments – but really, it stays the same. Whatever you do is wrong. Everyone else can do it better. And don’t forget – they all pay your wages, which you get reminded of at least twice a week, mostly by people who have never paid any tax.
Add to that the murders, suicides, death by car accidents, kids being hurt. People mutilating themselves and others, and the court appearances where every barrister and judge, and often most CPS lawyers will think you are a lying scumbag hiding evidence cos obviously all cops do that…. And on and on and like I said, that shit adds up and by late forties / early fifties (sometimes a lot earlier) a lot of cops are struggling with IBS and all manner of stress-related health issues. And backpain from wearing vests and utility belts for so long and working at computers and desks that are not rigged up properly. It gets to the point the cop just can’t do it anymore. Depression. Anxiety. Burn out. Thoughts of suicide. Their home-lives are wrecked. They can’t function.They ask for help. Fuck off. There is no help, and it feels like everyone turns away.
So they go sick. Lazy bastards. Going sick? What for? Oh my god. They posted on Facebook that they went for a walk. How dare they! If they can walk, they can come back to work! That’s the reaction for the most part. The GP will tell you they don’t deal with mental health. They refer you to mental health services – and there is often a very long waiting list for that. During the pandemic a lot of cops had therapy via zoom, sometimes by bored therapists going through the motions. It becomes apparent that you can’t do the job any longer, so you apply for a medical retirement. And the only person that can offer any help is that volunteer Fed-Rep trying to protect you from teams of HR and Senior Managers, all of whom dwell in offices and don’t give a shit cos they never met you. OOOOOH! And that Fed-Rep… They’re still a serving cop with a workload. Yup. They get given some time to help, but they still have to be cops first
Then what happens is that broken cop often sits at home completely isolated with severe mental health issues and the added worry that all their buddies will be judging them for being a lazy fucker. Some get so worried they don’t go out for fear of being seen.
I was the highest performing officer in my division, and I was still judged very badly when I went sick. That’s one of the reasons I taught myself how to write. So I could get out under my own terms.(Now I earn more than that lying Chief Superintendent mwahahaha)
But I saw how they treated people then and how they treat people now. It hasn’t got better at all. That whole system needs to change – but it won’t. Nobody cares enough to change it.
You, however, can change how you react to cops that suffer mental health. Not just in the UK but everywhere. For a start – being told thank you for your service is patronising. We get paid for what we do. I hated hearing it. A lot of British cops do. US cops might feel otherwise. You don’t have to say anything at all. In fact, for the most part, you don’t have to do anything other than be kind and decent.
If you’re in the job and someone you know is off sick – drop them a text and ask if they fancy a coffee. No pressure. No worries. You can pop round, or you can meet somewhere. If you do meet up don’t treat them like a grenade with a dodgy pin. Just chat and talk like you would normally. Ask how they are and what you been up to. Share the gossip like you would in the canteen. They are still a human being. Don’t judge or make snotty twat comments. If they don’t want to chat then fair one. Smile and move on. When I went sick my skipper came round for a coffee every couple of weeks. He was awesome. I’ll never forget that. He later had issues though and nobody was there for him. He resigned because of it. Such a loss. He was one of the best cops I ever worked with.
Anyway. That’s what I wanted to talk about. I think it helps just to have a little bit of understanding. If you’re in the job then have some empathy. We all deal with things differently and although you’re young and full of energy now you might not be one day, and you’ll want the people around you to show decency. That’s all it is really. Just being decent.
*The Elfor One is out 29th Sept on Audible!