OPINION: When we were children, Dad would occasionally wake me and my sister up in the early hours of the morning for a hug.
It was only ever after he’d gotten home from a particularly tough policing shift, and it wasn’t often.
At the age we were at, even if we’d asked what it was he had seen that night, he wouldn’t have told us. So we would just let him get it out of his system, roll our eyes and go back to sleep.
As I got older I became more aware of some of the things Dad, as a sole-charge policeman across a (so-far) 22-year career, had been involved with and still is.
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Some of it’s incredibly exciting, some of it’s weird and hilarious, some things have been blood-curdling.
On those nights when we were woken, another child had usually died.
He’s come home stiff and bruised, downcast, happy, pumped up on adrenaline, quietly proud, vocally proud, frustrated, furious and a million other things.
It’s a full range of emotions that every officer will experience across their careers, or sometimes in a single shift – and that’s normal.
It’s also nothing that someone battling a mental illness can’t necessarily handle, if it’s being properly treated. At the same time police need the ability to closely monitor and reject applicants who don’t pass the overall health test.
That may not always align with what’s seen as politically correct.
It emerged this week that the current rule – one of many in a rigorous and intensive application process – is a new recruit who has been treated for mental illness in the past, must be well and off treatment for two years before they’re accepted.
It’s caused much outrage from advocacy groups, an embarrassing backdown from an uninformed Labour police spokesman Stuart Nash, and encouragement from Health Minister Jonathan Coleman that it be reviewed.
A two-year stand-down period does seem excessive as a blanket approach.
Concern that the policy could deter someone who is already an officer from seeking help if they’re struggling, for fear it might harm their career, is valid.
The way they do the job may have changed since the 90s, but the scenes they encounter are no less draining/dangerous/physical/emotional.
It’s important New Zealand, as a country works, to remove the stigma around mental illness and part of that is treating it like any physical illness.
An asthmatic, who also carries inherent risks with respect to carrying out the job, is assessed (exhaustively) on a case-by-case basis.
This seems like a fair way to screen candidates who have suffered from mental illness (and let’s not pretend there aren’t risks with mental illness in such a high-pressured and dangerous job).
I was talking to a friend a while ago who is married to a policeman. It was the first time I’d realised that anyone else had the same weird thoughts about the job as I did.
I never worry about it; Dad would go to work and come home at the end of shift just like anyone on a day-to-day basis. But there are certain details I know I would include in his funeral if it came to it (sorry Dad).
There’s just not much I can’t handle, if I have a plan.
But the best laid plans can go awry. And if they do, I like to know the officers standing next to Dad at the next domestic violence incident are up to the job in all respects.