Oropouche East MP Dr Roodal Moonilal is calling for an institutional change within the Police Service through the creation of a unit to monitor fellow officers and assist them when they face emotional or mental challenges.
“There should be a unit that monitors officers and picks up issues without waiting for an admission. Maybe if they are going through a divorce or separation, if their children are giving problems, or they have community problems, they could intervene to do assessments as to whether these people are capable and stable enough to be on full duty.”
He said the unit, funded by “the public purse,” should be able to recommend regular psychometric, behavioural, and when necessary, psychiatric analysis of officers who were under stress or dealing with frustrations. He said there were such units at police establishments across the world, units that intervene and do testing when officers had issues, and that only allowed the officer to return to work if they were cleared by an approved psychologist or psychiatrist.
Referring to the two officers involved in the shootout with each other at Grand Bazaar on Wednesday over a woman, he said it was fortunate that the officers were bad shots so the country did not have another fatality.
“These are not people who you should give a firearm to and put them on the road... It takes a particular mind to draw a firearm and shoot like in the wild wild west. It takes a particular mind to surrender their uniform for a model to pose in a police station. These things require regular analysis and testing.”
He said we lived in a proud society where admitting to having a problem was frowned upon. He said our macho culture was not one to produce self-awareness where someone would readily ask for professional help. Therefore, he said it required an institutional change to bring about cultural change.
Moonilal initially made a call for psychometric and behavioural testing of police officers on Friday in Parliament while discussing the Anti-Gang Bill. He said the bill would place extra power in the hands of police officers and, since policing was a stressful job, psychometric testing should be provided for officers.
Police Service Social and Welfare Association president, Insp Michael Seales, explained that psychometric testing in the TTPS was done for initial recruitment and recruitment for specialist sections only. “Other than that there is no requirement for any psychometric testing at all because it tells the possibility of a person succeeding in their job description. On the other hand, psychiatric evaluation is what is missing.”
He said, at the moment, the discovery of any trauma, emotional or mental distress or disorder could only be done through voluntary application. He believed it should be mandatory for officers to undergo psychiatric testing to see if they should be on the job. In reference to the Anti-Gang Bill, Seales said it was first important to determine if the Commissioner of Police would create a special unit to deal with gangs. “The Commissioner would determine whether there is a requirement for psychometric evaluation. That is up to him in relation to the strategy to give effect to the anti-gang legislation.”
He said while there were no psychiatric evaluations, counselling was available to officers to an extent, and only if the officer asked for help. However he said there was no employee assistance programme in the TTPS as there was a draft policy but it was never implemented. He said if an officer needed support, it was done through social workers assigned to the TTPS. After speaking to a social worker, they would recommend the type of help needed and the officer would have to find that help.
“There is a provision for it but it’s not the way other police organisations operate. There is a recommendation to take the officer off duty for a while so they would be able to get back to some degree of normalcy... They try to ensure that the officer gets vacation leave and hope the officer gets the help they need.” Seales admitted that Moonilal identified a deficiency in the service. “Mental health on the whole is not treated with the voracity it needs to be treated with and it’s even worse in the Police Service where you have people who are armed with weapons.” On the recent shootout between officers he said, “It being voluntary takes away from achieving a strategic goal... If you look at it, there were warning signs and the fact is if the association was alerted then, we could have taken a decisive action but the persons who would have known did not see it fit to come to us.”
He said the association often used its resources to help officers as there were many cases of domestic abuse, suicidal tendencies, and other psychological issues among officers. “Once we saw it, recognised it or it was told to us, we immediately sprang into action and provided the best support that we could. But that was when we had the social worker because we had the expertise but we don’t have that facility any longer due to financial restraints.”
He said that was the responsibility of the Police Commissioner to ensure some financial mechanism to treat with officers with mental or emotional problems but the association took it upon itself as many of the officers believed the association afforded more confidentiality. Now they have to redirect the officers to the TTPS’s social workers.