There is a totally shit perception that anyone in the Police, and I expect other emergency services, are robots in a uniform.
Job Description – 1 x person, preferable if happy to be assaulted and sworn at, no feelings, can function on lack of sleep. Not quite.
In one week at work, the average Police Officer will see more than the average member of the public will in a lifetime.
I’ve lost track of the number of dead bodies I’ve seen already and I’ve only been in three years. Be it suicides, fatal car crashes, somebody’s Nan who’s passed away in a home, a heart attack in the high street, they all have an affect on me, some more than others.
What about a concern for welfare? We search homes, woodland, car parks, cars, you name it. Are we going to find a dead body? Someone who has taken an overdose? Are we going to find nothing? The adrenaline pumps every time you open a door when searching a house, because what if somebody is slumped behind it? Or hanging from the loft hatch? (Or a coat stand falls over when you open the door and you think it’s a body and crap yourself!)
What about the calls to a person on the train tracks, on a bridge over the motorway, the person who’s drunk and driven off feeling suicidal?
But it’s not all trauma. What about the domestics? Something we deal with multiple times a day – verbal & violent. Seeing both men and women injured at the hands of the person who is supposed to love them most. Comforting the children who are scared because they have witnessed it.
Our mental health is tested all the time, but there is an assumption that we are okay, because it is part of the job. Each one of the above, isolated, doesn’t seem like much to some. But put them all together. Imagine starting your shift at a suicide, then going to a violent domestic, and ending it with somebody stood on a railway bridge.
Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t happen like this every day, and I have no interest in painting a picture that it’s worse than it is. But somedays, they’re just shit. Other times, it’s more a cumulative effect. Let me explain….
For a number of months, every week, at least once a week, my shift got deployed to the same man. This man had a noose, around his neck, and he was stood on the wrong side of the railings over a road bridge. On some occasions, he wasn’t over the bridge, he was in his loft instead.
On one extremely bad day, I was deployed to his address with my colleague. He was in his loft with a noose around his neck, and was threatening to jump. Ambulance weren’t there yet. Nor was our back up. At least if he was on the bloody bridge we were on the same level. Here, his feet are above my head, how on earth is this ever going to end well. He wouldn’t let us into the loft, he kept leaning forward, tightening the noose.
I was talking to him, looking up through the hatch. Nothing. My colleague tried, nothing. Our back up arrived, as did Ambulance. Then, mid conversation with him, he jumped. I’m still not sure whether my heart sunk or jumped into my mouth. Thankfully we managed to somehow push him up by his feet, as my colleague got up into the loft and cut him down.
Every time I got sent to him after that, I dreaded it more. What if I get sent alone? He’s massive, there’s no way I could get him down alone. What if he’s over the bridge? Do I cut him down and risk him killing himself on impact, or let him hang until back up arrived? Do we drive the police car under the bridge so he has less distance to fall if he did jump? What about the van? Could we reach him from the roof of the van maybe? How would I get onto the roof of the bloody van to start with? Maybe we refuse to deploy unless there’s at least three of us? But what if there aren’t, what if we don’t go, and he dies?
The cumulative effect of this on our own mental health, as Police Officers, was massive. We knew the address off by heart, we didn’t need any more details. It became a horrible habit. We were knackered. We couldn’t keep doing this. We were going to break.
Yes we are Police Officers, but no we aren’t superhuman. Under our uniform, we are just a person, just like all of you. With feelings, emotions, and exhaustion. We get affected by jobs we deal with, of course we do. Yes, we get used to it, yes it gets easier, and yes we prioritise. But no, we can’t just keep going. Sometimes we cry. Sometimes we shout. Sometimes we sleep. But tomorrow, we’re back doing it again, and tomorrow is a new day, with new challenges.