2008-03-05 : ISS report highlights stress faced by SA police

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2008-03-05 : ISS report highlights stress faced by SA police

Postby GOSA » Mon, 2008-04-14 07:40


ISS report highlights stress faced by SA police
March 05, 2008 Edition 2

Natasha Joseph

SOUTH AFRICAN police officers are "shouldering a great burden" because of the country's high crime rate, their frequent exposure to violence and death and the fear that they or their colleagues may be killed on duty, said a researcher with the Institute for Security Studies (ISS).

Police management has a responsibility to ensure that their members are properly debriefed, counselled and supported when necessary, said the ISS's Bilkis Omar - but this does not always happen because many officers "fear… displaying emotions… and stigmatisation".

A South African Police Services (SAPS) spokesperson said that a number of counselling and support options were available to traumatised police officers, but acknowledged that some members feared being labelled "a sissy" by "macho" colleagues if they sought help.

SAPS spokesperson Selby Bokaba said that commanding officers were trained to offer an initial debriefing.

For example, if police had seen a colleague killed in the line of duty, a commanding officer would meet with those officers and discuss the incident with them.

Commanding officers would then help affected members to get professional assistance from psychologists.

But Bokaba admitted that commanding officers could not "force" police to seek counselling.

Commanding officers also had "a difficult balancing act" to perform in light of limited staff and resources.

"We do our best under the circumstances," said Bokaba.

A number of options were available to police officers who needed counselling, he said.

These included a dedicated medical aid amount of R6 600 a year for psychological help and a unit dedicated to employee assistance and staffed by social workers, religious leaders and psychologists.

Police were also told about the services available to them and were encouraged to seek help if they were traumatised.

Support services also extended to helping officers facing relationship difficulties and family problems, said Bokaba.

"(Police) members are, on a daily basis, continually exposed to danger, violence and death," said Omar in an article published late last week.

"While there has been much criticism of police behaviour and performance, it must not be forgotten that the job of policing in South Africa is stressful in the extreme."

Some of the problems faced by police officers included changes within the SA Police Service post-1994, alcohol-related problems, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and financial difficulties.
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