Sunday, January 25, 2015

Day 196: Writing a Blog part 6

"As I mentioned in the previous blogs, to overcome these self created belief systems and fears, as a immediate solution, I suggest developing and embracing an understanding that these aspects one have created within self, firstly is not real, because it is an irrational fear, and secondly is something that you are able to change - if you apply the steps to change them. For myself when I started writing - I could hardly string one sentence together and from there had the support to develop how I saw things and how to place that into writing. So no  - it is not an instant thing and depending on your self created belief systems, you might have to apply yourself in common sense by stopping the abusive thoughts that do not serve you - while taking the ultimate self directive step to practise those things you believe you could not do. Obviously here it is about baby steps - to not overwhelm yourself or confirm your paranoia by go all for it, not getting it right and then proving to your beliefs that yes you could not do it. If this happens then know that you have created a lets call it 'self fulfilled prophecy' where you sabotaged yourself to get back to the same point you came from. The mind is very very sneaky this way.  Unfortunately this is how we designed the protection systems of the mind to protect it which is 'us' as personalities."

On the topic of 'world events and solution,' I will share with you the approach that I used: My main interest as you may have noticed has been Criminology. How this all got started: when I finished high school, I studied horsemanship to follow a career eventually in managing or working at some form of horse farm or facility. After attaining this qualification I found it difficult to find the job that I was looking for so spent most of my time pottering around at home and doing the odd office job. Someone suggested to me to consider while I was looking for a job that I would find suitable to use my qualifications to support the South African Mounted Police - which similar to most countries is the division of the South African Police force that works on horseback. I followed the suggestion and went to see the Superintendent of the horse unit. I assisted them with grooming and exercising the horses and from there soon developed a friendship with all the members, after which they suggested to me to become a Reservist - where you volunteer your services to the police - and depending on what you want to get involved in you can either do more low key responsibilities or become trained same as the full time members to assist them with their policing tasks, as a normal paid member would be doing. I wanted to patrol on horseback and do what the full time members did - so I went for my firearm training and they trained me in the tactics and techniques one would need once you are 'out there' patrolling on horse back. I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

I did this for 2 years after which time I was offered a job managing a horse farm. I did not want to still be working with or riding horses on the weekends so I took a break from the mounted police. After a while a friend of mine who moved from the mounted police to the uniform division (the 'normal' police stations) suggested to request for a transfer and then on my weekends off I could assist him for a few hours patrolling in the police vehicles and doing crime prevention. Once I was in that division of the police force it became compulsory for all reservist to receive training that the normal police members would receive as well - which made complete sense, because one is going out there arresting people and thus need to understand the law and the administration involved in policing. For 2 months I went to classes on the weekends and studies law and arrest procedures etc. This was also very enjoyable and I started developing more of an understanding of how the policing system worked.

I stayed at this unit for another 3 years working shifts with the members which involved responding to crimes, opening dockets, arrests etc - to the 'behind the scenes' policing which involved crime prevention and at times small under cover operations - which was a lot of fun - getting dressed up and playing certain roles to try and draw out criminals or extract information. So over the years I not only developed more of an understanding of the pressure that the police members are under but also that policing and criminology is unfortunately not really considering the full spectrum or perspectives of why crime exist. For example these people have to face traumatic events every day - either they themselves are placed in life threatening danger or they have to deal with people who have experiences crime to things like dead bodies, murder victims, abused children etc. Even for myself there were times when I faced points that were really difficult for me - such as dealing with/transporting the bodies of people who had killed themselves or been murdered, child abuse cases, animal abuse cases, people who were so traumatised by crime that they begged me to go and stay with me out of fear for their lives. There were some instances where I experiences post traumatic stress disorder (due to my more 'sensitive' personality design) and could not work for weeks, but this is obviously a 'luxury' which the normal members could not afford. I mean yes they had Psychologists they could see and they could be booked off work with PTSD, but in general this would only apply to extreme cases where the member as already showing signs of severe PTSD, where they could not function in their work capacity. This from what I found usually meant that the damage was already done - if a member got to the 'severe stages' and often I worked with members who were already at this stage, where their own lives deteriorated and either due to pride or ignorance they did not get the help they needed. I mean my one friend at the time who I worked with regularly has severe PTSD, but was only booked off work for months of counselling and rest when he finally one day pulled his weapon at the station on his colleagues…

The reason why I shared my time line of experiences to how my interest in Criminology developed was to show that sometimes one has experience in a subject, from which the interest grows, but sometimes you only have a small interest in a subject which comes from for example an awareness or from reading articles on the internet. Either way from here if ones decides to pursue the subject - it takes a bit of research to familiarise oneself with the subject - therefore 'Research is the key'.

More on Trauma in the South African Police Force:

Taken from:

1. Exploring the meaning of trauma in the South AfricanPolice Service: A systems psychodynamic perspective

"Theme 1: Traumatic incidents

Exposure to traumatic situations and scenes is an inevitable part of the job of policing. Most police officers report relatively low levels of death anxiety despite their dangerous profession:
‘Trauma in my work is almost like a daily routine, we experience it almost everyday.’ (Particpant K, member of South African Police Service)

‘The work of the SAPS STF is very dangerous and every time a member gets sent on a mission, his life is on the line.’ (Participant S, member of South African Police Service)

Although most participants experience the death of a colleague as traumatic, they do not consider it overwhelming: ‘Another traumatic time for me, was the death of two of my colleagues in a state vehicle accident. One of them was our commander at the
time and a very good friend of mine. This incident obviously affected the whole unit, but I don’t think we were ever properly debriefed.
Everyone had to deal with this in his or her own way. I feel I dealt with it, but these incidents will always stay with me.’ (Participant A, member of South African Police Service)

The unit is spoken of as a living entity. The whole unit was touched by the loss of two of its members and although they received no psychological intervention (which may be interpreted as support from management), the participant feels that he dealt with this loss in his own way. These incidents were integrated into his ego and became part of his history, and he considers this to be a normal way of coping with trauma.

A sense of meaning was attached to the death of the police officer who was killed in pursuit of a ‘cop killer’; he died for a reason, whereas the death of the officer who was killed whilst cycling was regarded as senseless and devoid of meaning. The employment of religious beliefs in seeking to attach meaning to traumatic experiences is clearly illustrated in the next insert:

‘Then there was X whose parachute did not open during a training jump at Y with the SANDF. He was with me in the plane and exited behind me.
I was the first person to find his body and had to deal with the sight and smell I saw. I did this by setting the example as I was the senior member from the police on the training intervention. I proceeded to handle the scene as professionally as possible without emotion, getting
everybody involved. Once again my defence was to block out any emotional thoughts and replace them with the spiritual reality that his body is destroyed but he lives on elsewhere.’ (Participant N, Member of the South African Police Service)

Anger, aggression and irritability are commonly associated with traumatisation. In the following excerpt, a participant describes his feelings of anger after arresting robbers who shot at a group of which he was part. The anger is directed at the robbers as well as at colleagues who were not at the scene but criticised what had happened there. Again, there is the notion that anyone who was not part of the specific incident, whether or not they are other police officers, cannot understand what it was like:

‘Although, later one regrets it that the robbers are not dead, because they shot to kill us. It was an unfair battle. Some people criticise one’s actions afterwards and say that they would have handled it better ... Then I think to myself: “do not comment if you were not part of that which happened when it happened.”’ (Participant C, member of the South African Police Service)

The sense of having been abandoned by the department was a common complaint amongst injured policemen. This is often perceived as a lack of support:
‘In 2001 I had a serious motor vehicle accident ... During my stay in hospital my unit commander visited me once. There were no visits from colleagues.’ (Participant L, member of South African Police Service)

‘In none of the above cases did my unit commander refer me to helping professions for counselling or for debriefing after a traumatic
event.’ (Participant L, member of South African Police Service)

Theme 2: Systems psychodynamics

This theme consists of organisational and/or systems stressors and transformation.
Organisational and/or systems stressors

Police stress is defined as a perceived imbalance between what is required of officers and what they are capable of giving, under conditions where failure may have dire consequences (McGarth, 1992). Failure to respond to demands in policing is often associated with harm or death. All participants in the current study concurred that organisational stressors have an extremely negative impact on their functioning as police officers, their well-being and their lives as a whole.

Training: The training of police officers has dual relevance to this research. Firstly, there is the level of competency that officers themselves experience, and secondly, their perception of their colleagues’ level of competency. Both of these impacted on the officers’ sense of safety and adequacy, which in turn is linked to their sense of self. This is one of the areas where inadequacy may have serious consequences; untrained officers are a liability to themselves, their colleagues and the public alike. Adequate training makes them feel prepared and equipped for the job at hand:

‘Even though the training was physically very demanding, and you worked under lots of pressure, I believe that I am better equipped, and
better trained to do every job that is required from me.’ (Particpant L, member of South African Police Service)

Recognition: Feeling supported and recognised alleviates feelings of vulnerability and acts as a ‘trauma membrane’. In addition, the psychodynamic perspective on policing considers promotion, commendations and higher salaries as emotionally important since they symbolise the department’s approval or recognition of officers by rewarding them for being ‘special’. Participants cite the low salary that they earn as proof that they are not valued for the work they do and the risks they take:
‘We are a specialising unit and not treated as that. The allowance that was meant for us is taken away. Five years has past since we were
promised to receive an allowance and yet nothing has happened thus far. This makes members to leave our unit and join the private sector where the
money is good.’ (Participant F, member of South African Police Service)

Perceptions about commanders and management of the SAPS: Commanders and management are seen as the personification of the ‘organisation’ and often as the people in power who make the decisions. According to the psychodynamic viewpoint, a policeman’s unconscious emotional experience is that he is the child and the department is either a powerful, nurturing parent or a bungling, punishing one:

‘We heard later that X is leaving on medical grounds. The founder and “godfather” of the unit doesn’t want to be
part of this circus any longer.’ (Participant M, member of South African Police Service)

The impact of organisational stressors on relationships: Relationships within the police service can be broadly grouped into three clusters, namely relationships with colleagues, relationships with friends outside the police service and family relationships. Relationships with co-workers are considered important and have a highly supportive function. The literature indicates that police officers rarely socialise with non-police officers, which leaves family relations as the only other area of social support:

‘During this period, I relied heavily on my wife for support. Whenever something bothers me, I usually talks about it to my wife. Even
though I feel it’s good for me to talk about it, I think it might have a negative effect on her.’ (ParticipantA, member of South
African Police Service)

Working environment: Police officers who perceive their working environment as uncontrollable (external locus of control) are more likely to be utilising emotion-focused coping, which is associated with a poorer prognosis for their mental well-being. Alcohol abuse is often one of the means police officers use to cope with their working environment:

‘The trauma caused by all these incidents and situations have led to excessive drinking. At one stage I was drinking daily and getting
drunk most days. I come to realise that I must set an example for my kids and that the situation I was in was not anybody’s fault. I think
the realisation that the way things are going is a normal reaction of any person or persons that have been oppressed, woke me up. I still have a
few “toasts” but do not get drunk any more ... I spent time with my wife and children and I spent more time with my Maker. I try to go
to church more often. I got involved with school activities ... I think that when I started to realise that there is life outside of my working
hours, and that I am not responsible for everybody, I became less stressed and traumatised.’ (Particpant E, member of South African Police

This insert indicates ways in which defence mechanisms such as rationalisation may help to restore a sense of control over a situation, which encourages more adaptive ways of functioning. The shift away from the working environment to activities and people who are considered important contributed to this participant’s coping. The conscious increase of distance from the working environment is perceived as an act of survival. The implied message is that the working environment is killing that part of him which is ‘good’ and ‘decent’.

SAPS officers face two major stresses: the inherent problems of an often dangerous, violent and underappreciated job, and the pressure of working in an organisation which is being fundamentally transformed.

Racial tension: It is a sensitive topic and probably the issue in the SAPS which is least acknowledged at an official level. For various reasons, including our colonial and apartheid history, racial issues in South Africa and the SAPS in particular are imbued with fear, guilt, anger and anxiety. In their relationship with one another, Black and White men have not only been divided by history and geography; they have related to one another in particular and hierarchical ways. Since the inception of the ‘new’ (anti-apartheid) South Africa and the revamped SAPS, racism, or the perceived unfair advantage of one racial group over another, is considered to be a serious organisational stressor by the White, male participants:

‘Apparently racism does not exists in the new South Africa. “Ha-ha!” racism is alive and well and the only thing that’s
still advancing in the SAPS and its coming from both sides. Both my previous and present direct commanders are two of the biggest racists that I
ever encountered in the SAPS. It causes tension between members when some ethnic groups are deliberately favoured above others. This is one of the
main reasons of conflict between Black and White members at HP. It is wrong for someone in a managerial position to be guilty of such serious
misconduct.’ (Participant M, member of South African Police Service)

Representivity: As part of the transformation process in the SAPS, an objective is that the personnel compilation reflects the country’s demographics with regard to race and gender. The Employment Equity Act 55 of 1998 aims to ensure that suitable people from designated groups are equally represented in all occupational levels and categories. This is experienced as discrimination and a lowering of standards by the White male participants:
‘When it came to the selection of new HP members, the emphasis shifted from high standard to “representivity”. A lot of members left the unit for other units in the SAPS or better jobs in the private sector. Unfortunately, members who were selected because of their race and not their expertise replaced these members. This obviously created a lot of distrust and conflict within the unit. I just didn’t feel confident working with a member who didn’t have the same level of training than we did. As time went by, the unit went into a downward spiral.’ (Participant A, member of South African Police Service)

Unclear line of command and/or cumbersome organisational structure: Another change in the SAPS that is associated with the transformation of the organisation is an unclear line of command or a cumbersome organisational structure. Participants experience the command structure as cumbersome, clumsy and uncontained in a managerial sense:

‘I don’t really know how it happened but suddenly our unit commander had less of a say in our duties. Other officers at Area and
Provincial level decided what we had to do.’ (Participant C, member of South African Police Service)

The effect of the change: All participants experienced the recent changes in the organisation as negative. In contrast to the sense of meaning and purpose that was associated with the job of policing in the past, participants currently question the meaning of their function:

‘We were being used more and more as a show-unit and not what we were trained for (combatting of serious crime). We were not allowed to respond to any complaints or crime in progress, even if we were in the immediate vicinity. This was very frustrating and demoralising for all of us.
Crime was rife in X, but we had to drive behind a bus ... or stand at stationary points on the highways. This instruction shocked me. How could anyone who says that he is serious about reducing crime in this country, issue an instruction like that? Was this man involved in crime himself and
was he trying to get us out of the way? All these questions were going through my head as I was trying to make sense of this. We actually worked these insane duties for nine months. During this period I could hear crimes in progress being broadcast and the operator battling to find vehicles
to respond to these complaints, but we were not allowed to respond. The crime rate escalated. Instead of putting our unit to the use it was intended for, new units were started with new vehicles. Do the SAPS have too much money or is it managed by a bunch of morons?’ (Participant A, member of South African Police Service)"

2. Cop stress-level time bomb

"South Africa’s police service could have a potentially explosive problem on its hands if high stress levels within its ranks are not dealt with urgently.
With an estimated 90 percent of physically injured police officers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and the SAPS “mirroring” South African society, which, according to studies, has an estimated 15 percent of citizens suffering from anxiety disorders such as PTSD, police management and researchers fear that ticking time bombs within their ranks may soon explode."

3. SAPS wasting millions on extended sick leave

"Tax payers are coughing up millions for hundreds of members of the South African Police Service (SAPS) who have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), some of whom have already been on paid sick leave for as long as seven years, the trade union Solidarity said today. In addition, these members are now forced to report for duty, where they are not only endangering their own lives, but also the lives of others. If they do not report for duty, they payment of their salaries is halted."

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