Policing is a job like no other: physically and mentally demanding

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On The Beat with Inspector Jim Tyner

A couple of months ago there was an article in one of the national papers which stated that 800 police officers across England and Wales were off sick with stress. Unfortunately the headline was predictably negative: ‘Taxpayer picks up bill for hundreds of police officers signed off with stress’.

Last week the BBC reported on the forthcoming fitness tests for officers. The fitness tests don’t become compulsory until September but most forces are already preparing for them. Unfortunately, rather than celebrating the fact that 97% of officers are already passing the new fitness tests, the headline was ‘Hundreds fail new compulsory police fitness test’.

Let me talk about the physical fitness tests first: I think it’s absolutely right that the public expect police officers to be physically fit.

As a man in my early fifties, the joys of middle age mean that it is certainly more challenging for me than the younger fitter 1992 version of myself, but still achievable.

So far in Lincolnshire, 254 of the 256 male officers who took the test passed it. This is a 99.2% pass rate. 86 of the 97 female officers also passed the test. This shows a pass rate of 88.7%.

This gender difference is reflected across other forces and it has caused some to challenge whether the tests are an appropriate measure of an officer’s physical ability.

While it is essential that police officers are fit both mentally and physically to discharge their duties, there is no appropriate one size fits all test to ensure this is the case. I’m fairly sure these arguments will rumble on. Officers that fail the fitness test will be given support and an opportunity to re-take it.

As an aside, it does cause me to question the extension of the retirement date for emergency services. Do we really want sixty-year-old cops and firefighters on the frontline?

Policing is a job like no other: it’s physically and mentally demanding. So it is incumbent on us to recruit people that measure up to those demands.

Our new recruits, Ryan, Lewis and Charley (Spalding Guardian, January 31) are just finishing their initial training and will be making their first patrols in the next few weeks. No one knows what the future holds for them, but in the coming decades there will be times when they encounter violence, hate and ghastly sights, sounds and smells.

I sometimes hear comments that we shouldn’t moan: we knew what we were letting ourselves in for when we joined.

During the American Civil War it was called ‘seeing the elephant’: This was the term used by new soldiers to describe the feeling before going in to conflict for the first time. Many people had heard of elephants but had no concept of their size, some had seen pictures of them, but no one knew what it would be like to encounter one for the first time.

So, although we know when we join the police that there is the potential for unpleasant experiences, none of us know what our breaking point will be.

Some officers may be traumatised by the experience of a fatal collision, or the death of a small child. For others it may be the experience of being attacked and injured or the feeling of vulnerability patrolling on their own. Some officers suffer from the stress of relentless paperwork and deadlines or the ever-reducing police numbers amid increasing demands. We are all different. What is important is that officers receive appropriate support in order to return to full duties.

As well as my local responsibilities for Spalding, I also have force-wide responsibility for a team of brilliant volunteers who, in addition to their normal policing jobs across Lincolnshire also provide support for their colleagues in the form of Trauma Risk Management or TRiM.

My TRiM team provides the small voice of support after a traumatic event. They provide the reassurance when someone is suffering the normal human reaction to events outside the normal human experience.

Sometimes though, officers need further help and support. I recently stayed at one of our Police Treatment Centres for treatment for a long-term back injury. These centres are run by a charity and although they specialise in physiotherapy and physical injuries, they also provide respite for those suffering from depression.

There are many misunderstandings about clinical depression. One of the most common is that people who get it are in some way weak. This is ironic as research shows that in fact the opposite is true. Stress induced clinical depression does not happen to weak people, but is an affliction of people who are too strong for too long.

There are several different causes of depression but by far the most common is stress. Every day I see the determined heroism of officers being strong in stressful situations.

So while the national headlines may sneer at officers on full pay being off sick with stress, actually those officers are being supported so that they can return to work.

It is also part of my job to ensure that those who will never be physically or mentally capable of discharging their duties again are supported out of their roles, creating vacancies for new recruits.

It’s not a pleasant task but I always feel that I owe it to our community to ensure that South Holland gets the policing it deserves.

I can’t tell you how many officers are on duty, but while you’re reading this it is likely that, for every officer dealing with an incident, there is likely to be two or three other incidents awaiting their attention. Then these incidents have to be put on hold if an urgent incident is reported.

It is therefore vitally important that, with the reduced numbers of police officers, those that we have are physically fit and capable.

It is also essential that those that are off sick are supported for an expedient return to their colleagues. We need every cop we can get.