Summit zooms in on police blues

Pretoria – From January to June this year, 34 members of the South African Police Service (SAPS) had committed suicide.

In 2009, the SAPS lost 73 officers; in 2010 the figure increased to 97; in 2011 there were 85 cases and in 2012, the figure was 98.

Speaking at a three-day SAPS Summit on Suicide Prevention on Tuesday, Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa said the officers committed suicide either by utilizing a service firearm, hanging themselves or overdose by tablets.

Tensions in personal relationships, marital problems, infidelity, trauma, depression and mental health issues, poor financial management were some of the main drivers of such incidents.

Mthethwa told the opening of the summit that a police officer’s job was demanding, as it requires them to absorb many emotions from the community ranging from anger, frustration and sadness.

Police officials, the minister went on, experience mostly anger, hopelessness, frustration and helplessness after trauma.

He said they are also exposed to negative media reporting and criticism from the community as well as socio economic and political dynamics within the same community.

“When horrible road accidents happen and many innocent lives are lost, in most cases as a result of negligent and reckless drivers, police have to cordon off such gory scenes. Some of the scenes are so gory we cannot even start describing them here. Yet again, police are called and have to manage these situations.”

Mthethwa says police suicides paint a bleak picture which requires a multi-faceted approach.

As part of the intervention, the SAPS currently has extended and advanced trauma management systems compared to other government departments, policing agencies, nationally and internationally, which they apply in a pro-active and reactive manner.

Mthethwa urged members to pro-actively take responsibility for their personal health and wellness while he pleased with commanders to pro-actively pay attention to the wellbeing of their members.

The three-day summit is hosted by the National Commissioner of Police, General Riah Phiyega, as well as invited experts, researchers and other stakeholders.

They will discuss suicides within the organisation critically with internal and external role players and stakeholders. At the end of the summit, they will produce a pointed plan to address suicides within the SAPS. –

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My ethos is espoused in the words of Nelson Mandela: “I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the idea of a democratic and free society. If need be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

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