Mental health care for those who serve

Police Commissioner Erla Harewood-Christopher - ROGER JACOB
Police Commissioner Erla Harewood-Christopher - ROGER JACOB

THOUGH INVESTIGATIONS continue, the initial reports surrounding the deaths of WPC Josette Marshall, 45, and Cpl Dwight Skeete, 42, are troubling and tragic.

Unusually for cases like this, the two were members of the protective services, who appear to have died in a murder-suicide in the middle of Suicide Prevention Month. However ongoing inquiries unfold, the case underlines longstanding concerns about the need for greater attention to be paid to mental health among the ranks of law enforcement.

“Today, the TT Police Service (TTPS) is plunged into mourning at the brutal shooting involving two of our own,” said Commissioner of Police Erla Harewood-Christopher on Tuesday. “I wish to express the deep sadness that the TTPS experienced today following reports that two police officers were involved in a deadly shooting incident in what so far appears to be a murder-suicide.”

She confirmed the Homicide Bureau had begun investigating and extended the services of the police’s Victim and Witness Support Unit to affected families and colleagues.

Insp Gideon Dickson, the president of the Police Social and Welfare Association, meanwhile, called on his colleagues to trust the professionals and the support systems in the service and to seek help.

“Police officers are human too,” he said.

The barriers, however, to officers taking such steps are substantial. In a small, claustrophobic society, there is a stigma around treatment for mental health, with people afraid of other people knowing their business.

The vulnerability of police officers is also, for some, not something easily countenanced in a system in which toxic masculinity runs rife and in which women must already push back against the perception that they are the weaker sex. Additionally, the standard view is that if you sign up to protect and serve, you have signed up to all that involves.

But the dramatic spiralling in crime has had an insidious effect on officers, too, not just citizens. The pressures of being a police officer are already extraordinary, more so in a situation in which you are perceived to be operating in a broken system, in which policies do not seem to be bearing palpable fruit at a rate that is fast enough.

It is easy to vilify police, and indeed there are clear instances in which police misconduct must be called out.

But spare a thought for officers who are literally in the firing line, with little control over matters far above their pay grade.

Just days ago, on Monday, President Christine Kangaloo called for people who serve the public to be given the respect they deserve. This should extend to police officers, the vast majority of whom sacrifice much and pay a price not measured in dollars and cents.


"Mental health care for those who serve"

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