THE EDITOR: The manner in which police officers are issued firearms for their personal safety while off the job should be carefully examined. In these difficult times of increased criminal activity, personal safety of the officers may be considered to be of prime importance.
The recent gun attack on a policeman at his home by two unknown people, followed by his quick response may be enough to validate the issuance of firearms. However, what checks and balances are in place to determine the mental health of these officers to act responsibly at all times, particularly in intensely emotionally charged situations?
It is widely known that officers are engaged in traumatic encounters on a daily basis. It is the nature of their duties, resulting in officers demonstrating hypervigilance or a sense of calm resignation, indicators of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a very debilitating condition.
They may appear to be invincible but they are humans too – wives, husbands, fathers, mothers – and carry the burden of responsibility as any other citizen, in addition to policing.
It cannot be overemphasised that physiological debriefing must be available to all officers to provide ongoing emotional support. Whereas debriefing should not to be mandatory, the hierarchy should ensure its availability to those officers that understand and appreciate its value. The absence of the debriefing may incite anger and aggression, distorted thoughts and reasoning, both on and off the job. It is also an interceptor for PTSD.
Administrators should institute these proactive measures rather than address the negative fallouts which could be fatal. Stringent background checks and psychological assessments should be mandatory before officers are issued with firearms for their personal safety. This should be accompanied by annual reviews.
We must get it right. Our officers must be fit to perform under any situation without any hindrances related to traumatic disorders.
As an addendum, police officers should not be allowed to accumulate leave entitlement for any lengthy period. Accumulated leave in this profession is equivalent to accumulated stress which may be manifested in negative emotions or chronic illnesses. It is in their best interest to stop and exhale as they refresh their physical, mental, emotional and spiritual aspects of life.
JOAN HARRISON via e-mail