FOR former Hunter police officer Adam*, it is difficult to pinpoint where his troubles began. It was not a single job, or one bad shift, that pushed him over the edge and into the abyss of post-traumatic stress disorder.
What Adam does recall clearly from his 12 years of service in forensics, general duties and child protection is a lack of meaningful support when it was needed most.
“I was involved in three murders in six months and not one debrief,” he said. “He died straight in front of me, I tried to save him and I couldn’t,” he said. “Two weeks later, I was offered a debrief. All they do is tick the boxes.”
Adam’s illness has cost him. He lost his job and his partner. He left the force in 2013 and has been in and out of hospital as he fights the anger raging in his head. During that time, he has also been fighting another battle, with insurance agencies, in a bid to keep food on the table.
His wife left two years ago and he is raising two children alone on a $1200-a-fortnight workers’ compensation payment.
Adam is one of four Hunter Region police officers suffering post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) who have spoken out about their treatment by the NSW Police Force and insurance agencies.
The men said unwell officers were a liability.
“You’re scared of what’s going to happen. The moment you put your hand up it’s ‘bye bye’,” said Rick*, who served on highway patrol for 12 years.
Sam*, who left the force in 2012 and lives week to week on insurance payments, agreed.
“It’s all about ... what is best for the command,” he said. “When they can get someone to fill your spot, they’ll just target you until you’re at breaking point.”
He cited a lack of training in recognising symptoms and a workload that prevented adequate debriefing.
“There’s no support and no time for support,” he said. “You’re routinely exposed to things that most people never see in their whole lives.”
Mike*, a police officer of 14 years who is now supporting three children and living week to week on workers’ compensation payments, said there was still a hardened culture in the force.
“You come across as touchy-feely or a wanker if you care too much,” he said.
Mike said some managers dangled jobs like carrots in a bid to “fix” injured workers.
“They don’t understand, incentive doesn’t work,” Mike said. “If you’re sick you’re sick, it doesn’t matter if they offer you a million dollars to get better, you’re not going to get better.”
A NSW Police Force spokesperson said the organisation was “continuing to develop cultural change with a focus on understanding that it is normal” for jobs to impact officers. “Whilst we encourage officers to seek assistance at any time” there were many programs to assist including Trauma Response, operational debriefing and peer support, the spokesperson said.
The organisation was focused on retaining officers.
“Any rehabilitation program seeks to identify … suitable duties for officers” to assist in their recovery, the spokesperson said.
“The understanding of the impacts of trauma on law enforcement officers is a constantly developing field.
“NSW Police Force continues to develop a range of initiatives aimed at preventing injuries and promoting officer well-being, injury management and rehabilitation.”
*Names were changed.