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Police Suicide: Risk factors and intervention measures by Richard Armitage

16 March 2018

Alan Billings considers the pressures that are killing police officers

I IMAGINE that every police force in the country currently has concerns about the welfare of its officers and staff, especially their emotional and psychological health. The reasons for this are not hard to understand.

Since 2010, after the financial crash, police budgets have been cut by 20 per cent and police officer numbers by 20,000. At the same time, demand on the police service has increased. When I visit a police station, it is not unusual to find an officer coming on duty to be faced with 20 or more jobs that he or she must attend to that shift.

They feel stressed. They often feel undervalued. Morale has suffered.

Suicide is the most extreme manifestation of a sense of isolation and hopelessness. The question for those of us who have a concern for police welfare is how far the suicide of serving or former police officers and staff is related to the jobs that they do — and, if so, can we improve matters?

Richard Armitage’s book makes a useful contribution to a subject that is under-researched in this country. A former police chaplain, he looks at case studies and examines the academic literature — which is mainly from the United States.

It is not an easy book for the general reader, since it reads like a thesis — with a literature review, the presentation of statistical evidence, and a great deal of quotation from named researchers. But each chapter ends with “concluding comments” that often contain illuminating observations.

Most of the factors that may have led to police suicides in the UK seem to have been the same as in the general population. The responsibilities of the employer are as with all employers: to ensure that managers are pro-active and alert to the signs of stress and understand how to offer appropriate support.

One factor that may make it harder for officers to seek help is the occupational hazard of having to take control of stressful situations while remaining calm amid the chaos and carnage — much of which they cannot discuss at home. Police chaplains will understand this very well.

Canon Alan Billings is an Anglican priest, and Police and Crime Commissioner for South Yorkshire.

Police Suicide: Risk factors and intervention measures
Richard Armitage
Routledge £29.99
Church Times Bookshop £27

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