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.”
Carmarthenshire towns win two prestigious awards
CARMARTHENSHIRE County Council has congratulated two local town councils for their success in the One Voice Wales Awards.
Pembrey and Burry Port Council won the Best Community Engagement category for the multi channels of communication it has set up which enables the community to participate in any decisions the council takes. It was also recognised for the shadow forums set up in both primary and secondary schools to ensure the younger generation have a voice.
Kidwelly Town Council won the Best Devolution of Service or Asset Project category for acquiring ownership of Parc Stephens play area from Carmarthenshire County Council in 2019 as part of the asset transfer process. Since then it has increased accessibility and inclusivity for a wide age range of children and includes a sensory garden.
Carmarthen Town Council was highly commended in the Best Annual Report category.
One Voice Wales is recognised by Welsh Government as the national representative body for Community and Town Councils in Wales, providing a wide range of services to our 634 member councils representing approximately 8000 councillors.
This year’s awards ceremony has been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Carmarthenshire County Council’s Cllr Peter Hughes Griffiths who is responsible for liasing with town and community councils said: “I’d like to congratulate Pembrey and Burry Port Town Council and Kidwelly Town Council on winning the awards. It just goes to show the great work being done across Carmarthenshire and more importantly how we are working with the communities to meet their needs. I’d also like to congratulate Carmarthen Town Council on the commendation.”
Woman arrested on suspicion of possession with intent to supply
AN AMMANFORD woman has been arrested on suspicion of possessing class A drugs with intent to supply.
Dyfed-Powys Police officers were on patrol in the Glanamman area on when they saw the woman driving a silver Peugeot away from them.
They were aware that the driver had no driver’s licence, and that she was suspected of being involved in supplying class A drugs in and around Ammanford.
Additional units made their way to her home, where the car was stopped. A search of the vehicle resulted in class A drugs being found, and she was arrested.
Further searches were carried out by the response team and dog unit. Around 16g of cocaine, some amphetamine, and some cannabis were found.
A 42-year-old woman was arrested on suspicion of possession with intent to supply, possession and driving offences. The vehicle was also seized.
She has been released under investigation pending further enquiries.
Sergeant Walters said: “This was a very swift response to information relayed by colleagues who recognised the woman and were aware that she should not have been driving.
“Ammanford Neighbourhood Policing Team, response teams and the dog unit worked closely together to achieve a positive outcome.”
Play equipment gifted to children with disabilities
CHILDREN with disabilities in Carmarthenshire have been gifted play equipment by the county council during the coronavirus pandemic.
Some 26 children are already making use of new play materials and outdoor equipment which are helping to maintain their health and well-being during the lockdown.
Items such as garden swing seats, paddling pools, tablets, sensory black out tents, trampolines are making a huge difference to them whilst staying at home.
It comes after funding was set aside for those identified by the council’s social workers or disability intervention staff as needing extra support, and subject to an assessment.
Anna Martin, whose son Finlay has benefited from a garden swing said: “Finlay has spent many an hour calmly swinging in the garden. It has been great for him to spend time with the family outdoors. Fin is like a ‘toddler’ and enjoys a cwtch and a nap so the fact that this turns into a bed has been a big hit! It has certainly perked him up during lockdown.”
Funds are still available and anyone who is supported by the council’s disability service can ask their support worker for an assessment.
The council’s executive board member for children’s services, Cllr Glynog Davies said: “The restrictions of the current lockdown have been a huge challenge for all families, but particularly for those with a child who is disabled or has autism. Our teams identified that for some families having extra play materials or outdoor play equipment could make a massive difference to children’s wellbeing. We established a process where staff from our specialist teams could assess if families would benefit from this type of help. We have been able to purchase and arrange delivery of a number of items so far and we’re delighted to see what a difference it has made.”
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