Got a bandaid?

Today I have sat through another training day. The content and appeal of these days varies greatly but today was one of the better ones. At least the first session anyway.

When I first started in the police prisoners got a copy of their rights and the opportunity to consult the codes of practice. This remains a cornerstone of everyone’s rights. However, in recent years a number of additional documents have appeared. They are designed to give additional information to detainees needing extra support. The list is not exhaustive but includes housing, drugs, alcohol, matrimonial issues and benefits. It also includes special leaflets for juveniles and women. There is also a leaflet for ex forces personnel.

Now I have to say that dishing out these leaflets is not compulsory. But every one being released must be risk assessed. Releasing anyone without proper regard to their ongoing well being is leaving yourself wide open to criticism. So whilst the leaflet is sometimes overlooked or unnecessary it’s content and relevance has to be in the back of my mind. Every individual is unique and has to be treated as such. It is not a “one size fits all” operation.

Whilst I have been aware of the leaflet for ex forces personnel for a year or so I have never had occasion to hand one out. I can’t say I’m aware of booking anyone in who was ex forces. I’ve certainly booked in plenty of active ones though. Some very embarrassed by their predicament knowing that the courts and their CO will have a bite of them. Double jeopardy. Others have been drunken buffoons in need of a sharp reality check.

Having had todays lecture I realise how wrong I have been. I have probably booked in dozens of ex forces staff. They just haven’t disclosed it. Partly because we don’t routinely ask the question and secondly because many will not openly mention it out of pride or a number of other reasons. I also don’t fully understand, having never experienced it, how military training shapes an individual and causes them to sometimes act in ways that are inappropriate in civilian environments.

Our speaker today talked of many issues including PTSD, anxiety, loss of security and hyper-vigilance. He talked about forces staff being trained to a state of being switched ON for action. Ready to go at any time. To go from hunkered down to fighting and killing at the drop of a hat. He also described how the MOD have never then taught those people how to turn the switch to OFF. I figure even from my infantile knowledge of this subject that the solution is nowhere near that simple. What it has done is open my eyes to something that up until now I have paid lip service to.

I then realised this is not new. This has been going on since Vietnam and well before. As such why are the MOD only now starting to give it some real attention? Why are charitable organisations such as The British Legion, Help for Heroes and SSAFA taking the brunt of this burden? That debate will continue for a long time I’m sure but it seems the MOD have been sticking a bandaid on a serious injury for years. But the fact remains that too many forces personnel are in the CJS and HMP because we have let them down.

I said to the trainer that in layman’s terms it was like cancer. If ignored it becomes a serious life threatening condition but with early identification it can be treated. I’m encouraged by the work of the respective charities and of HMP, Probation etc to address these problems. From a cynical perspective they seem to have worked from the finish line backwards. We have been asked to get involved in this process too late. Good that we have been but we should have been asked ages ago. The first entry point into the CJS is the police. We could have been identifying problems and flagging them up much earlier on.

Notwithstanding, a journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step. The steps are being taken and I know for certain that my attitude has fundamentally changed today. From my own professional and Christian standards I find myself somewhat embarrassed by my previous lack of empathy, even though the knowledge was unknown to me. I hope to never see another ex or serving forces member before me at the desk again. But if I do, I know they will from this point get a more sympathetic and caring process from me than ever before.

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