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'Broken' officer pens candid letter to chief constable

'I feel let down, I feel abandoned, I feel alone, I feel undervalued, I feel mentally exhausted'
Published - 12/10/2017 By - Sophie Garrod - Police Oracle

An officer who says she is “battling with a mental fatigue that is not healthy and not getting better” has written to her chief constable.

The West Midlands Police officer of 24 years, qualified to the rank of sergeant, says she wanted to put in writing her state of disillusionment and mental exhaustion for her own benefit.

In her letter, the officer, who has not been named, confirms her dedication to her Neighbourhood Policing Team and how she had formed strong relationships within the community. However, the officer now feels her role is no longer the same.

“During these years I have believed in my role, I have believed in me, I have believed that I make a difference. Others have believed in me," she wrote to CC Dave Thompson.

“Then it all changes. In the past years, I have lost count of how many ‘change programmes’ we have been subjected to at WMP. I say subjected to because this is how it feels, it feels like these have happened to us, not with us, not for us.”

She added: “The CJS is at breaking point, sentences are inadequate, offenders are returned to the streets undeterred. Prisons are full and understaffed. The social care and mental health services increasingly rely on the police to paper over the cracks in their under resourced, insufficiently staffed sectors.

“Our actions and reactions are constantly questioned, largely by the College of Bystanders who choose to pontificate from the sidelines, but will never (I feel broken) walk a step in my shoes.

“My role became influenced by politics, by financial restraints, by budgetary decisions. It became less clear, less defined, less valued. Messages from senior managers became mixed, what was expected of me became blurred, became conflicting, became difficult to manage.

“I started to feel pulled from pillar to post, neither one thing nor the other, mopping up demand that spilled over from inadequate staff on response, unable to carry out NPT duties, but criticised when problems were not solved and held responsible when things failed.

“The pressure started to build for me, caused mainly by too much demand, too few resources, too much de-skilling, too little support from senior managers, too little concern for welfare, for employees, for the human side of policing. I became jack of all trades, master of nothing.”

She explains how the role has taken a toll on her mental health: “I became mentally exhausted, I became ill. My mental health suffered. I was not supported, I was not listened to (until it was too late). I was off sick for months. I did not believe I could return to it. 

"I did return, but as a result of my own self-sufficiency, my own strength, my own character which somehow I re-found. By this time, however, I could return only while taking anti-depressant medication, and having reduced my hours at significant personal financial expense, just so I could face it, cope with it, self-manage it, limit my exposure to it.

“Things have worsened and are still worsening since my return. I have managed to endure a further 18 months since my last episode of mental illness. Just about.”

The officer says feels her team is “rubbing rags” to "mop up" an overspill demand and at times demand which is days old and unresourced.

She added: “And still, though this organisation feels as though it is broken, I feel broken, management must recognise that it is broken, there are no voices speaking on my behalf. Senior managers are not speaking for me, the Government is not speaking for me, the media is not speaking for me. So I have to speak for myself, to feel alive, to hear my voice, to know that I am still me and always will be, despite it all.

“And so I feel let down, I feel abandoned, I feel alone, I feel unvalued, I feel mentally exhausted. I feel anxious, I feel sick, I feel a black cloud descend as my last rest day approaches. I have no capacity to recharge my batteries anymore. I do not sleep properly.

“I am not a number, I am not a bum on a seat, I am not a resource to complete a task. I have to keep telling myself that because there is no-one else telling me.”

Assistant Chief Constable Sarah Boycott has since responded to the letter describing it as “deeply moving on so many levels,”  and thanking the officer for her openness.

She said: “As a force, we really value your dedication and commitment and, in some ways, this makes it even more difficult to hear your account of the support you have received as a member of the WMP team. I think we all agree that the nature of policing is changing.

“Crime and public expectations are changing, as too are societies and there are new technologies which provide opportunities - as well as requirements - to work differently. Change therefore is inevitable - imperative even - as we constantly adapt our approach to deliver our promises to the public.

“As you know we’re under constant pressure to deliver more for less, and with limited resources this is set to get even more challenging. As far as I can remember in my 25 years of policing, this has often been the case.

“Our job as senior leaders in policing is to make a strong case to government for sustainable police.

“You are a valued member of the team.”

The force has also made a significant investment in the wellbeing of officers and staff, according to ACC Boycott, with the addition of a BWell employee support scheme - offering 24/7 confidential advice and counselling.

It has also seen “positive results” with the introduction of a Wellbeing team.

ACC Boycott added: “I want you to know that you are not a number, you are a valued member of the team and a person who has shown great strength and resilience in articulating your experiences so clearly.

“I’m really keen to meet you to understand how we can support you and help other officers and staff who may share similar experiences to yours.”

West Midlands Police Federation told Police Oracle this letter had been taken seriously and it was hoping to arrange a meeting between the officer and the CC Thompson soon.

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