Sound mental state of police officers must be prioritised

Dan Plato, MPP

Western Cape Minister of Community Safety

I am concerned about the mental well-being of some of our police officers following another shooting tragedy involving a police officer and will be asking the Western Cape Police Management how my department can be of assistance to promote mental well-being in the police and how we can sensitise police officers about the positive alternatives available to those facing emotional and psychological challenges.

Following traumatic incidents, which are often experienced by police officers in their line of duty, they should receive mandatory counselling support to assist them in working through tough times and prepare them to return to duty with a positive and healthy mind-set. Police suicides are of serious concern with more than 350 police officers in South Africa committing suicide between 2009 and 2012.

I believe the South African Police Service (SAPS) are aware of the problem and have paid attention to it as can be seen by a statement that was issued by the SAPS in February of this year. The statement urged police officers in need to make use of the service’s free 24/7 employee health and wellness programme. This is an extract from that statement:

As the South African Police Service (SAPS)’s management, we would like to urge all employees to use the services offered by the Employee, Health and Wellness (EHW) Department, which will help with support through counselling and interventions to manage stress, trauma and the negative impact of our work environment. These deaths have a negative impact on the organisation, the family, friends and colleagues of the member as losing one member is one too many, and it can be avoided. Preventing police officers from committing suicide or killing family members, is a priority for SAPS management.” – Full statement: http://www.sapsjournalonline.gov.za/dynamic/journal_dynamic.aspx?pageid=414&jid=40393

There is clearly a problem in the South African Police Service and it is one that needs urgent attention.

The following are extracts from some of the related media reports online:

  • 29 September 2011 – “A Ladysmith police officer shot his girlfriend eight times before turning the gun on himself, police said on Thursday.”
  • 21 May 2012 – “A police constable shot and killed his girlfriend, also a constable, at their house in Namakgale before committing suicide, Limpopo police said on Monday.”
  • 28 December 2012 – “A police officer shot and killed his girlfriend in North West yesterday.”
  • 8 January 2013 – “A police constable has shot dead his girlfriend then killed himself in Onverwacht, Limpopo police said on Tuesday.”
  • 10 September 2013 – “A Yeoville SAPS police officer shot himself in front of his girlfriend after they had an argument.”
  • 23 December 2013 – “A police officer based at the Mahikeng Organised Crime unit shot his girlfriend then turned the gun on himself, North West police said on Monday.”
  • 12 February 2014 – “A police officer from the Tembisa SAPS cluster allegedly shot and killed his girlfriend before turning the weapon on himself. The officer’s girlfriend was shot in the head and chest.”
  • 8April 2014 – “A police officer in Bethlehem in the eastern Free State has hanged himself in a holding cell following his arrest for rape. The officer was attached to the detective unit. He was reportedly under the influence of alcohol when he raped his ex-girlfriend.”
  • 20 April 2014 – A policeman from the Norkem Park SAPS, Tembisa, shot and injured his girlfriend before killing himself last Friday.
  • 22 May 2014 – “A 33-year-old police officer shot and wounded his wife and then turned the gun on himself in Kwanonqaba, near Mossel Bay, on Thursday, Western Cape police said.”
  • 28 May 2014 – A Mitchells Plain policeman opened fire on his girlfriend at a popular restaurant in the airport’s food court on Wednesday night, following an argument.
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