A Lentegeur police officer’s double murder and suicide has placed the issue of the psychological trauma faced by police officers in South African Police Service in sharp focus. According to Rafique Foflonker from the Mitchells Plain Cluster Community Police Board, policemen and women in South Africa are facing severe emotional distress due to the consistent exposure to violence.
His comment comes in the wake of a triple murder-suicide in Begonia Street Lentegeur in Mitchell’s Plain on Thursday, in which a 41 year old detective from the Lentegeur police station shot and killed his girlfriend and her mother. Granville Brookes is alleged to have had a physical altercation with his girlfriend Charmaine Goliath the night before, which led to police management taking away one of his police firearms. The Independent Police Investigative Directorate is now investigating which firearm had been used during the murders as part of their probe into the crime.
According to reports, his girlfriend had broken up with him after Wednesday’s blowout, in which police were called to the scene. Neighbours reported that Brooks had allegedly threatened to kill her as he was escorted from Chairmaine’s home. On Thursday morning, he went back to her home, where he held the family at gunpoint and shot Charmaine and her mother Susan. Despite being in the house, her father was not harmed.
The board’s chairperson Lucinda Evans visited the community last night where anger was expressed over the murder. The main concerns raised were that police could not be trusted to safeguard and protect residents.
“Police officers face horrific crime scenes which results in post-traumatic stress disorder and secondary trauma. We need to get a handle on the emotional wellbeing of our police officers, fire-fighters and ambulance workers, who are exposed to this on a daily basis,” said Foflonker.
“Do they have adequate health and wellness and mental de-briefing? It’s a conversation we need to have.”
“The mental wellness of our police officers is a dialogue we are going to continue. This affects our community and police force in a huge way,” said Foflonker.
Brooks’ murder and suicide comes just a week after Sergeant Bradley Franks from Kensington police station shot himself inside a vehicle in the driveway of his girlfriend’s home in Morgenster, Mitchells Plain. Franks was described as sterling police officer who had made a valuable contribution to the Facreton Kensington community. The circumstances around his suicide are unclear.
Despite the implementation of SAPS Employee Health and Wellness Programme to give support and counselling to police officers, many do not seek assistance.
Foflonker believes there is a stigma around police officers who seek psychological treatment, as they will be seen as weak or inept.
This was echoed by Gareth Newham‚ head of justice and violence prevention at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS).
“Throughout the world‚ most police departments don’t really know how to deal with mental and psychological impacts of the job‚” said Newman.
According to Newman‚ relationship challenges‚ financial and work stress‚ and substance abuse can lead to a person‚ even an officer of the law‚ breaking the law.
“They [police officers] think that if you seek psychological help you might seem like you are not coping and‚ as a result‚ they think that might jeopardise their chance of getting a promotion or something like that‚” Newman said.
Foflonker believes those closest to police officers need to play their part.
“Supervisors and family members need to coach police officers to seek help as it goes a long way to maintaining their mental balance. If this fails, they don’t get a chance to unburden and these things catch up with you. Secondary trauma is a real thing, so we need to pay attention to our loved ones and our colleagues.” VOC