Blue Flower

Psychological Trauma Risk Management in the UK Police Service 

This paper was written by Heather Prince. She is in charge of the research briefs program for the American Society of Evidence Based Policing. If you're unfamiliar with ASEBP, they are an organization that translates police relevant research into short briefs for their members - police agencies and officers around the country, to read and learn from. Their goal is to disseminate research to police officers and agencies across the country (USA) to form a better connection between research and policy, and academia and practice.

 

Reference:

Hesketh, I., & Tehrani, N. (2018). Psychological Trauma Risk Management in the UK Police Service. Policing: A Journal of Policy and Practice. doi: 10.1093/police/pay083

Takeaway:

  • Proactive mental health treatment can have positive mental health effects for officers 
  • Resilience training for staff and officers shows improvements in communication, working relationships, and increased feelings of control 
  • Regular identifying of trauma and monitoring of officers’ psychological health is still crucial to maintaining mentally healthy officers

The UK police services have recently been undergoing many changes and reduced budgets alongside many new challenges of the time they have to face. Some of the accompanying changes in officer behavior include reduced numbers in the force, increased sickness absences, and changes to terms and conditions. As police officers face difficulties in an already very demanding job, management should ensure that their health, including mental health, is taken care of to promote better service and wellbeing. A recent paper discusses the efforts to deal with the current efforts in psychological trauma risk management and emphasizes the approaches it feels should be improved to increase the quality of care. 

The paper suggests splitting officers into three categories to better tailor psychological trauma services: responders, specialists, and those who work during major disasters. All three categories deal with primary and secondary trauma, though in different ways. The first category of officers deals with incidents everyday, with unpredictable traumatic exposure to very serious events, as well as chronic psychological stress from working in contact centers and having to deal with complaints which can lead to compassion fatigue and burnout. The specialists, on the other hand, deal with specific expected trauma, such as handling child abuse cases, dealing with victims of rape, conducting hostage negotiations, etc. 

For both of these groups, regular identifying of trauma and monitoring of officers’ psychological state is crucial to dealing with their mental health. The monitoring and assessment should have established cut off levels that lead to support services being set up for the officer, in order to catch the problem even when the stress and trauma levels are gradually changing rather than all at once. 

Both pre-screening as well as post-screening are useful, as shown in two police forces. Pre- screening showed that while the majority of incoming officers had normal psychological test scores, 15% had concerning scores, and 5% had symptoms of clinically significant PTSD. While they were still cleared to work, the scores triggered an occupational health assessment, with the potential assignment of trauma therapy and wellbeing focused session with mental health professionals. The officers in these sessions reported satisfaction with the process and services, showing that proactive treatment can be positive, particularly in retaining those who have some exposure to trauma. 

For the last category, those who help deal with major disasters, they may face vast personal and human trauma during their service, and also may not be accustomed to the work the same way officers who regularly work in policing are. To handle this, the police services need to create systems and processes which can quickly be made available to large numbers of people. These depend on the availability of early post-trauma interventions, including psychological first aid and debriefing. 

Many of these tactics are starting to become more commonplace in police forces across the UK. Resilience training for officers and staff in general has also been shown to be useful, with participants in a pilot study reporting improvements in communication, working relationships, and increased feelings of control. 

Policing overall is a tough occupation, with many hazards, not least of which include threats to psychological health. While there are several forces moving in the direction of looking out for their officers, many departments still are environments where there is hesitation around acknowledging trauma and asking for help. With management and staff, along with health professionals working to provide systems and processes to help, hopefully the culture will change and the quality of identification and treatment of trauma will improve as time goes on. 

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