The Chief Constable has highlighted the work done by his officers in assisting people who are suffering with poor mental health and why that work must continue.
Gary Roberts was writing in his annual report which looks at the breakdown of crime on the island, but also the effectiveness of police work in the community and the impact of the lockdowns on the community.
The Chief Constable’s report includes an overview of how the constabulary coped with the pandemic, the three lockdowns we lived through and the impact it has had on his officers.
Mr Roberts said: ‘Our approach to the first lockdown was based on sensible guidance issued by the United Kingdom’s National Police Chiefs Council, which had been preparing for a pandemic for some time. The guidance placed the enforcement of emergency legislation as a final option after three other options: engaging the public, explaining the law and encouraging those breaking the law to desist. By taking this approach the Constabulary ensured that its actions remained proportionate and that only the most serious breaches resulted in enforcement action. This meant that formal enforcement action – prosecution or the issuing of fixed penalty notices after they became available in May 2020 – was only taken against 0.13% of the population. Data shows that only 0.91% of the population were given warnings (a precursor to enforcement action). This gives a lie to perceptions that exist in some quarters that the Constabulary was somehow gung ho in its approach.’
He also acknowledges that the second lockdown ‘seemed to be more difficult for many people’ and that the third ‘was altogether a different affair, with signs that many people were enduring poor mental health’.
The Chief Constable added: ‘Mental health calls increased during the first lockdown and remained at a high level throughout the year. Officers frequently found themselves conducting searches for people, who were in such a state of crisis that they had gone missing as a prelude to suicide. Often such searches were complex and required assistance to be obtained from other agencies, such as the coastguard, civil defence and search and rescue dogs.
‘Sadly, as many as at least twenty people took their own lives during the year. Whilst the coroner of inquests is yet to record a formal verdict in some of the cases, it is clear that 2019-20 and 2020-21 saw high levels of suicide. It is not easy to determine why this should be the case. The people who succeeded in taking their own lives were from a variety of ages and backgrounds and were mainly men. It is too early to determine the long term effects of the pandemic, but some of those who ended their own lives did so in the aftermath of the first lockdown period.
‘During the year the Constabulary contributed to work led by the Public Health Directorate aimed at preventing future suicides. The work will continue and it is far too early to assess the impact that it is having, but doing nothing is not an option.’
In 2019, the police made a bid for extra funding to extend on a permanent basis the trial in which mental health professionals worked from Police HQ alongside patrol and neighbourhood officers. The bid was approved, except that the funding was given to the DHSC and as a result the system was changed, with the mental health professionals becoming part of a broader crisis team operating from Manannan Court.
Mr Roberts said: ‘There were valid reasons for making the change, not least of which was the need to ensure that proper clinical supervision exists for those involved. Operational police officers expressed reservations about the new approach, but the strength of working relationships at operational and senior levels ensured that the service, whilst different than before, remained effective.’
The Chief Constable also noted that the mental strain of the pandemic, high levels of demand and pressures on his officers have led to several police officers being diagnosed with PTSD. He said: ‘The Constabulary is striving to do its best to prevent its officers falling ill in this way, but there is a lot of work to do. Even in the safest of places police officers see and do things that can have damaging effects.
‘The main cause of non-covid related absence was stress, depression and anxiety. The mental wellbeing of officers is of critical importance and, at times, officers can feel overwhelmed. The Constabulary’s approach to building personal resilience among officers, to identifying those at risk of suffering and to ensuring that proper care and treatment is available is based on best practice from the United Kingdom. Our people strategy is in part predicated on keeping officers well.
‘Policing is complex and it can be difficult. Even in this safe place police officers often encounter traumatic events that can leave a lasting effect. Constant low-level exposure to difficult and unpleasant events can have an equally damaging cumulative effect. Making sure that peers, supervisors, senior officers and the families of officers understand the signs that someone may be struggling is critically important. Creating an environment in which people can talk about mental health is also an important factor in keeping police officers well.’