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JIS News

Law enforcement can be a tough job, and unquestionably, the life of a police officer can be demanding given the rigors associated with the profession.
From the high crime rate, fatigue due to the long working hours, to the risk of losing their lives in the line of duty, the men and women charged with the responsibility of upholding law and order of the land are often overburdened by the stresses they encounter on a daily basis.
As a response mechanism to counter the overwhelming pressures its members face, the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) has instituted a support system, which is inclusive of a chaplaincy programme, with five area chaplains working alongside the police in its varied divisions across the island; full-time peer counsellors; and pastors assigned to every local station to offer spiritual comfort.
In addition, in 2000, the Association of Christian Peace Officers (ACPO) was launched, where Christian officers, through a programme of sustained training and emphasis on personal development, assist in fostering an integrity core within the force to provide support for colleagues. The objective of the group, is to improve the morale and ethics of members of the force and through this, offer a better quality of service and improved relationship with society.
Chaplain of the JCF, Rev. Dr. Vivian Panton, tells JIS News that the police officers are susceptible to numerous mental health problems given the strenuous and dangerous environment of law enforcement.
He points out that, “apart from the normal stresses that the average citizen has to contend with as a person living in today’s world, the work hours of the police extend beyond the average working hours, so the long work hours often impacts very heavily on them; then there is the physical conditions in which they have to work at some of the stations”.
In addition, Rev. Panton says, “there is the risk of the job itself, and the nature of their work in their daily engagements and having to deal with the negativity in the society. It creates a certain kind of stress which is unique to the law enforcement officer.”
Rev. Panton notes however, that while there is a strong counselling programme and the chaplaincy has undertaken the task of assessing the mental wellness of officers, a certain level of competence was required in providing mental healthcare, and a chaplain just did not have those skills.
He therefore welcomes the recent appointment of consultant psychiatrist, Dr. George Leveridge, to provide the long-term and professional support that the members of the police force need. “It is not just timely, it is overdue,” Rev. Panton says, noting that the psychiatrist will assist the force by cushioning the stress levels police officers may experience.
For his part, Dr. Leveridge tells JIS News, that he has long wanted to assist the force in a capacity that is purposeful, and so he hopes to make a meaningful impact in his position.
He surmises that “there is so much interrelationship between the issues [police officers are faced with on the job], I think we need to isolate them. Their physical problems will definitely impact on the psychological and so we have to ensure they are physically okay, and that the stress of the job doesn’t lead to them developing chronic medical disorders such as hypertension.”
The psychiatrist says that such medical disorders, if go unchecked, can in turn, “affect their psychological and emotional functions.”
In addition, he notes that given the nature of law enforcement, police officers are involved in shootouts, they face the likelihood of being shot, they see their colleagues being injured or killed and witness the death of criminals at their own hands. Any of these situations, he points out, can induce serious stress.
“When there is prolonged anxiety, depression can kick in, and when you are faced with these extraordinary stressors, post-traumatic stress disorder will develop so in some of these officers, if we look closely, we may see something we need to monitor closely and help them to be healthier,” Dr. Leveridge tells JIS News.
The professed “new kid on the block”, says that he is still in a transitional phase, having just taken up his new position, but is in the process of doing a needs analysis to closer examine what the officers will require in terms of psychiatric help.
Providing an outlook of how he intends to proceed in his position, Dr. Leveridge says, “I first have to look at what is present, look at what resources are needed and so on, after that I think I would want to sensitise first, all the members of the force as to who I am, what my responsibilities are, and then see how I can use that pilot programme to see what is workable.”
He adds that a department was being readied, and a project team is to be assigned to include an administrative assistant.
Turning to his long term goals, Dr. Leveridge says, “I believe that if we are able to have a proper medical unit for the force, where we can really properly follow the progress of an officer’s health, that would be helpful.if we have a system that the officer accepts and buys into, which seeks to address the psychological needs of members of the force, it would also be beneficial.”
The consultant psychiatrist says that in his capacity as a medical official, he believes that “if we can get certain mindsets changed, and augment the philosophy of community policing, officers can go out there and bond with the community by having closer relations such as having health fairs, continuing their talks in schools, and building on programmes that are out there.”
Rev. Panton eagerly welcomes the psychiatric component of mental care that Dr. Leveridge will bring to the force. He says that while the psychological support the JCF previously provided for its officers was in some instances, “way ahead of several police forces internationally”, now that a consultant psychiatrist had been secured, “this really puts us in line to meet international standards and puts us on the level among the best that you can find in terms of care being provided for the police.”