Cuts of 20% to police numbers have caused anxieties among residents about neighbourhood safety, but where do conversations start about the potential for officers to suffer life changing injuries in the execution of duty?
According to Superintendant of the Devon and Cornwall Police, Ian Drummond-Smith, there have been nearly 200 Cornish police families assaulted within the last year. This includes PCSOs, Detention Officers and Police Officers.
They can vary in severity from spitting, biting, suffering a fractured arm or shoulder pain in a violent arrest.
He told Truthfal: “I think austerity has hit hard and it’s a lot more of a stressful environment than it was eight years ago”.
Drummond-Smith has also founded the Kreslu Police charity which supports any police officer from Cornwall or visiting the county which has been injured.
The interviewee said the significance of these injuries can’t go unnoticed as he works with several suffering PTSD.
Their work can feel ‘surreal’ at times because of the demand to ‘go from one scenario to another’ within half an hour.
He told Truthfal: “I was alarmed by the numbers of staff in my work and in Cornwall who were getting hurt and I thought ‘how can we make them feel valued?’”
Eighteen of Kreslu’s thirty seven cases have come from this year.
Russ-Speller, Newquay and St. Columb Sector Neighbourhood Team Leader, was previously out of work for three months after snapping his achilles on a chase.
“I was instantly isolated, I couldn’t drive and was stuck at home.
I’ve never not been doing something”.
He stressed the charity’s focus on the welfare of the individual whereby injured officers don’t have to subscribe and Kreslu approaches them, unlike Flint House Rehabilitation Centre.
One of Drummond-Smith’s other officers has been significantly injured and still can’t walk nine months on from his assault.
Drummond-Smith claimed that in incidents like this one, the police members are unlikely to return to their role as Front Line Officers.
His charity has organised two respite holidays for those having suffered serious injuries, including a weekend in a holiday cottage in the county for an officer and their partner. Or, if the police officer has children they can be given a trip to a campsite by the coast.
Alternatively, Kreslu offers locally produced hampers for ‘fairly serious’ injuries and Amazon vouchers for cases consisting of milder pain.
These hampers include artisan, county-based products, including Rowes clotted cream fudge which add to the charity’s strong Cornish brand.
The Superintendant said: “It doesn’t actually cost that much money but the token seems to be really appreciated, just so they can realise someone is thinking about them.
Some people have even been moved to tears”.
Speller confirmed this when he claimed that the charity ‘provides the light at the end of the tunnel’ for someone like himself who is a keen cyclist and surfer, and felt he couldn’t enjoy life the way they used to. He was given a hamper, books and had someone regularly checked up on him.
“It gives you time to put things in perspective, you’re dealing with a lot of other people’s tragedies.
On the front line, you attend suicides, people bleeding to death and it takes a lot of strain on the officer”.
From this, Drummond-Smith said that more work needs to be done to encourage police to talk about their traumas.
More broadly, the Devon and Cornwall police force are members of the ‘Blue Light Time To Change’ scheme which commits itself in a more overt way to empower police officers to talk about their mental health. The force has signed up to an action plan which encourages police forces to take steps towards making mental health less taboo.
Drummond-Smith said: “It can be a single incident or combination that leads to PTSD, we’re very alive to that”.
He revealed that there is still a stigma attached to ‘some aspects’ of mental health which officers are reluctant to talk about. Perhaps historic expectations of police as solely public service providers have become problematic. They have hindered officers from talking about their own feelings and damaging experiences whilst carrying out their duties.
There has become an ‘us versus them’ attitude in the UK, according to Speller where officers have become victims of culture. He suggested there is a similar mindset in the military where ‘people just keep going’ and ‘eventually crack’ because their experiences live with them, which he manages by getting officers volunteering to take on jobs if another is stressed.
From his experience in the police, Speller has quickly learnt the importance of talking about things rather than bottling them up. He’s seen colleagues leave their jobs as they don’t want to get involved in the experiences again.
He revealed to Truthfal: “It’s not that I don’t want to share to the public, I want to diffuse about those things with people which have shared those experiences; they might not act in an appropriate way”. The officer suggested there is still an unpredictableness to how people might react to these stories and a greater ‘cultural willingness’ to talk is needed.
Incidents like spitting blood on nurses, paramedics or officers can be very distressing, especially because officers can contract diseases like meningitis and have to wait three months for a post-incident blood test.
By sharing officer stories, the superintendant emphasised how he hopes the public will gain a better understanding of police work, similarly to the recognition given to Help The Heroes work for helping ex-military re-adjust after their service.
“We depend on individuals being up for publicity and charities are bringing these injuries into the public sphere”, Speller told Truthfal.
Drummond-Smith suggested that Cornish police might find it easier to talk more widely because of the close, local connections with the people in their towns. Most police patrol in the town they live or raise their children in, meaning there is good relationship with the force in the county, according to Drummond-Smith.
The interviewee did however stress to Truthfal the importance of talking inside the close circles of the police family for allowing charities like his own to get them professional help, which can provide the building blocks for wider, national conversations in the press or larger UK police forces.
The charity has taken an interest in developing treatment for officers in the next five years, according to Drummond-Smith. He claimed that the organisation has benefitted from fundraising events like Ben James Svalbard expedition but is still ‘finding its feet’ before they can develop this longer-term aim.
See the Kreslu Facebook page here.