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Protecting the protectors: An inside look into the service supporting the frontline of Dyfed-Powys Police

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POLICE officers give their all to protect their communities – running towards danger as others run away, supporting victims and families in their darkest hours, and seeing unimaginable scenes.

But who is there for the protectors when they need back-up?

As part of Mental Health Awareness Week, Dyfed-Powys Police is sharing an insight into a previously unseen side of the force – the work the counselling service carries out in guiding officers and staff through their own struggles.

From officers painstakingly combing crime scenes for vital evidence, and investigators trawling through thousands of images on digital devices, to colleagues balancing the pressure between work and home life, Counsellor Samantha Davies and a team of 13 others around the force are there to offer guidance and support.

And Samantha explained the service is often most needed when officers least expect it.

“We often see officers who have got 20 or 30 years’ experience and don’t understand why an incident has affected them,” she said.

“Say you have an officer who has dealt with atrocities for 30-plus years, and suddenly they find themselves crying over something small. They think they’ve gone mad.

“Of course they haven’t – it’s the weight of what they’ve dealt with over the course of their career.

“It usually goes that they say they’ve dealt with worse things, they’ve seen worse things, and they don’t understand why this particular incident has bothered them.

“We work closely with them to find the trigger. It might be something in their past that they haven’t dealt with, there might be similarities with this job, or this latest incident is simply the straw that breaks the camel’s back.”

While there are formal mechanisms in place to support officers who have dealt with traumatic incidents – being the first on scene at a murder, a sudden death, or a fatal collision, for example – the need for the counselling team might come from wider impacts of the job.

The challenges of dealing with a long term investigation, months spent in exposed conditions looking for evidence, or long night shifts guarding scenes of crime to ensure evidence isn’t lost can take their toll.

As part of her role, Samantha ensures she is readily available to officers working in difficult conditions – visiting investigation sites regularly to offer support.

“It’s not always the things they’ve seen – it can be problems at home, or the pressure of being away from home for weeks on end,” she said.

“One of the biggest things we see in the counselling room is guilt. We help officers to work through this, and give them the tools to help themselves.

“With the ongoing operation in Carmarthen, before the COVID-19 restrictions were put in place, I was making sure I was on site twice a week, every week, with the force chaplain and our in-house Occupational Health Specialist team so they could see we were there if they needed us,” she said.

“Being on a site day in day out isn’t easy – if we can be there for a chat in the canteen, help clear the plates away, then officers get to know what we can offer, and are more likely to get in touch if they do need support.

“They might not need us during that particular investigation – it might be months or years down the line – but by meeting us at that time, they know we’re here.”

While Samantha sometimes faces reluctance from officers in accepting that they need a counselling session, she is able to strip away layers of bravado from those saving face from their colleagues.

“You do get a bit of banter between some officers – particularly when we carry out specialist unit reviews,” she said. “They’ll be in the waiting room making jokes about it, but when they come in, it changes.

“They might be worried that their line manager has to know they’ve had a session, or that I could take their firearms license away, for example, but that’s not what I’m here for. Once they realise what we’re about – that we’re not candles and whale music – they start to open up about things.

Nearly a year into her position at Dyfed-Powys Police, Samantha is realising a career dream stemming from her childhood, growing up in a policing family.

“My dad was an officer for 30 years,” she said. “When I was young, he used to tell me lots of gory stories, which I loved, and they gave me an insight and understanding into what they face.

“While he told me what he’d seen, he would never tell my mum. She didn’t work for the force, and he didn’t want to burden her with the things he had seen – that’s still true of officers today. They carry the weight of what they have seen and heard on shift, and often have nobody to offload to.

“He fully supported me when I said I wanted to be a counsellor. He was old fashioned, and would say in front of others that people need to pull their socks up, but quietly he would sit with me and say that things had changed since he left the job. They used to go to the pub and talk things through – he knew that didn’t happen anymore, and that people need somewhere to talk.

“I absolutely love my role. When someone says they wouldn’t have got through something without support, it absolutely humbles me. It brings me to tears.”

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Police officer punched and spat at minutes after aggressive man held knife to his own throat

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A POLICE officer was punched in the face and spat at as he responded to a report of a violent man with a knife.

The Dyfed-Powys Police PC was left with swelling and bruising following the incident in Carmarthen on Saturday, October 17.

He also attended A&E for his eye to be cleaned after being spat at by Michael Ivan Priestly, who has since been charged and sentenced for assaulting an officer.

The force received a report of a disturbance at a house in Glanffynnon at around 9.40am, where it was said the 43-year-old was in possession of a knife.

Sergeant Darren Morgan said: “We positioned ourselves outside the property, and the defendant came out in a raging state, shouting, swearing and throwing his arms about.

“His behaviour was so alarming that we feared for our safety until he went back inside.”

Further units attended to provide support, but once inside the house, the defendant’s behaviour became more concerning.

“Through the back window we could clearly see him in possession of a knife, which he pointed at us several times in a threatening manner,” Sgt Morgan said.

“He then put the knife to his throat. We weren’t sure if he was threatening to harm himself or us.

“We attempted to engage with him, but he came outside again, shouting aggressively and swearing.”

Priestly removed a six inch knife from the waistband of his trousers, and dropped in on the ground when instructed.

Efforts were made to calm him down, but he became more uncooperative until the point he lashed out and punched a PC, before spitting at him.

Priestly was arrested and taken to custody, where he continued his tirade against officers.

He was charged with assaulting an emergency worker, and appeared at Llanelli Magistrates’ Court on Monday, October 19.

He was sentenced to a community order, a rehabilitation activity requirement, 100 hours of unpaid work, and must pay a total of £280 in compensation and costs.

Sgt Morgan said: “I would like to commend all officers involved in the incident for their actions in preventing Priestly from potentially harming himself or others.”

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Killer Andrew Jones must spend at least 30 years in jail

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A KILLER from Carmarthen will spend at least 30 years in jail.

Andrew Jones, 53, from Bronwydd Road, denied murdering his long-time friend Michael O’Leary but was convicted by a jury.

Mrs Justice Jefford set a minimum term of 30 years which he must serve before he can be considered for parole. She described the killing as ” a planned ambush”.

She told the killer: “Michael O’Leary did something wrong but he did not deserve to pay for that with his life. All accounts of him is of a man who lit up the room and played a central role in the lives of his family.

“Your family stands by you. You are more than fortunate in that. The impact of your actions in their lives has also been devastating. They feel ostracised from the community from where they live.

“Your wife still talks about you as the love of her life and your children talk about you in glowing terms.”

The judge made an order for the forfeiture and destruction of a rifle but not of the other guns in Jones’ possession.

She added: “This was a remarkable investigation by Dyfed-Powys Police.

“The officers and operatives involved are too numerous to mention but they are all to be commended for their efforts.”

Mr Jones’ barrister Karim Khalil QC is now addressing the court.

He said: “The defendant himself is not a highly educated man. He made the best of the talents he had.

“He worked all hours, not in any sense workshy. He built a family life which is now destroyed.

“He is remorseful for what happened. He is not cold-blooded.

“He acknowledges the pain he has caused.”

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Two week national ‘Firebreak Lockdown’ announced for Wales from 6pm on Friday

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MARK DRAKEFORD, The First Minister of Wales has announced a two week ‘fire break’ lockdown from Friday October 23 at 18:00 HRS, to last until Monday November 9 at 00:01 HRS

Mr Drakeford said: “This firebreak is the shortest we can make it. It must be sharp and deep in order to have the impact we need it to have on the virus.”

All non essential businesses, including tourism businesses will be told to close.

Businesses have been told that they will be given £1000 each automatically to help with the economic impact of the shutdown.

Mr Drakeford added that children will be the priority and that childcare facilities will open as normal. Primary schools will open after half term.

Secondary schools will be closed for a week after half term to help control the virus.

Universities will offer a mixture of face-to-face learning and learning via video link. Students must stay at their university accommodation during the lockdown.

Responding to the Welsh Government’s announcement of a Wales-wide lockdown, Paul Davies MS, the Leader of the Opposition in the Welsh Parliament, has called the lockdown “not-proportionate” and is calling on the Welsh Government to be “open and transparent” on the evidence to support a lockdown and if the First Minister is committing Wales to rolling Wales-wide lockdowns every month.

Paul Davies MS said: “Sadly, the First Minster has failed to get public support for this second Wales-wide lockdown, failing to be open and transparent about the evidence to justify this lockdown and what his actions will entail for the future.

“The Welsh Government also has to be honest that this road they are taking us down is committing Wales to rolling Wales-wide lockdowns. This is not a two-week break to solve the pandemic, it is likely that we will see regular lockdowns across the rest of the year. The Welsh Government must be clear what actions they are taking during the lockdown to prevent further Wales-wide lockdowns which will have a significant impact on people’s lives and livelihoods.

“However, the main concern is that this national lockdown is not proportionate. The impact on businesses in areas such as Powys, Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion, who have the lowest rate of Covid-19 cases in Wales, will be severe at a time when they are desperately struggling to recover from the pandemic so far this year.

“The First Minister needs to urgently come to the Welsh Parliament and answer these questions, to face effective scrutiny by elected representatives and not run his government by media.”

Preseli Pembrokeshire MP, Stephen Crabb told The Herald: “The evidence to support an all-Wales lockdown is weak and I am sceptical that this so-called ‘fire-break’ will tackle the situation in those parts of Wales where infection rates have been out of control. The key issue for Welsh Government to address is what will be done differently after the firebreak ends in those parts of Wales where infection rates have spiralled out of control. Otherwise the whole of Wales risks being dragged back into a series of rolling lockdowns.

“As we saw earlier in the year, lockdowns come with huge costs in terms of harm to the economy and to people’s emotional and mental wellbeing. With the Welsh Government asking UK Government to fund this lockdown, I hope that as many businesses as possible get support they need quickly. Pembrokeshire’s hospitality businesses will be hit particularly hard by these latest restrictions and I will be fighting hard again to see that they are protected as the lockdown kicks in.”

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