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PSYCHO SOCIAL SUPPORT TO POLICE OFFICERS.

The National Police Service (NPS) has embarked on an ambitious program to sensitize all police officers on trauma healing and psychological wellbeing as they fulfil their mandate of providing safety and security in the country.

The program seeks to empower NPS officers at all levels, to enhance their sensitivity to issues of stress and trauma they routinely encounter in their professional and personal lives.

It also strives to create and hold safe spaces in police stations, offices, camps, colleges and communities thus enhancing peer to peer support for officers to feel safe enough and dignified to share their stories and experiences of stress, anguish and trauma in a confidential and non-judgemental environment.

In addition, the program seeks to provide tools and frameworks that increase informed choices to ensure that stress and trauma that officers experience do not feed into the cycle of violence.

The Program known as “Muamko Mpya-Healing the Uniform” that kicked off last year, has seen the training of about 400 police officers across the country.

A Development Partner –Green String Network, facilitated all the trainings last year and has already laid down a training program for more officers to be able to be sensitized this year.

The Inspector General of Police Mr. Hilary Mutyambai says he is passionate about this program that is envisaged to heal the police of stress and trauma they regularly experience in the course of their duty.

Mr. Mutyambai says, while it is true that every person experiences stress and trauma, the disciplined service is unique in that whenever they go out on their day to day activities, they encounter scenarios and incidents that are stressful and traumatic, leaving emotional wounds in their hearts even as they continue providing safety and security of the citizens.

According to a Kenyatta University Research Study (2012) on factors contributing to stress, suicide and murder  among police officers in Kenya,  the work of a police officer is often exhausting, dangerous, and even traumatic. It further states that Police are generally at the receiving end of all community problems. They are expected to maintain law and order in very difficult situations besides putting their lives at risk as soon as they leave home every day.

Police officers are also often in touch with extremely painful issues in the community. They are expected to deal with such incidents as child abuse, wife battery, and rape all of which cause deep anguish to those involved. Equally, they are the ones called out to scenes of murder and serious assault. Being witness to these horrific circumstances is incredibly stressful and can at times lead to feelings of depression and disillusionment.

It is important to note that reactions after witnessing violent acts such as brutal murders especially for those who first visit the crime scene are more complicated and intense. The shock and horror upon discovering the victim and the image that is engraved in the mind can be overwhelming. The mental picture will remain with the officer sometimes accompanied by flashbacks, nightmares and thoughts. Police officers generally bear immense duties and responsibilities that they are required to carry.

The Research findings also indicate that a number of social signals may be a pointer that all is not well and that a likelihood of suicide or other crimes is possible. These include: increase in alcohol use, work-related problems, divorce or break-up of a relationship, increase in sick days, shunning of normal social relationships with friends and family, loss of interest in social activities including positive leisure.

It is equally important to note that mental health problems are not limited to the disciplined service alone. That is why the President of the Republic of Kenya Uhuru Kenyatta in November last year, constituted a Taskforce on Mental Health. The taskforce is expected to assess prevailing mental health status in the country, social determinants and other factors contributing to the adverse mental health, assess mental health systems including legal and policy framework and report on the recommendations to outline  policy, legal and administration reform proposals aimed at transforming mental health systems for improved mental health and quality of life.

The heavy responsibility of providing safety and security to wananchi at all times makes the Police unique since much is expected of them. They are therefore required to handle stress and trauma issues sustainably as they serve members of the public.

The research findings also indicate that lack of collegial concern among police officers makes it hard for immediate workmates to recognize signs and to seek intervention on their behalf. It is not surprising that when police officers turn violent either to themselves or to others, few people have a clue that such officers were undergoing problems.

The Ransley Report (2009), indicate that Police work in Kenya like in other countries is equally demanding, strenuous and stressful. Police officers work in varied contexts with their duties sometimes making immense demands on their time, physical strength as well as mental capacity.

They experience severe demands and are continually stressed out occasioning various kinds of destructive behaviour such as drug and alcohol abuse, reckless sexual behaviour, irritability and vulnerability to suicide.

The report cites factors such as underpayment, stressful working conditions, lack of equipment, poor and inadequate accommodation as factors that could be regarded to be strenuous to the police officers. Other matters of concern include stagnation in ranks and undeserved promotions, long stay in operational areas, inadequate operational vehicles and working for long hours.

The foregoing scenario, alongside the prevailing national agenda of public sector reform, has informed the radical change in the way the Police operate hence the reform and transformation program.

The Inspector General says, in the past few years, the National Police Service has enhanced efforts aimed at supporting officers and their families in psychological wellbeing. 

In April 2019, the Inspector General launched the development of Trauma Informed Initiative content for the National Police Service. Police officers from both the Kenya Police and Administration Police Services together with the Directorate of Criminal Investigations participated to enhance ownership of the initiative.

With the assistance of the development partner- Green String Network, the officers captured encounters and narratives that speak about police experience with distress, stress, trauma, resilience, creativity and healing.

In a bid to seek for local solutions to local problems, researchers Alex Kamwaria and Michael Katola from their study of the Dinka of South Sudan, indicates that biological approaches are important but they do not comprehensively respond to the question of healing.

 Kamwaria and Katola state that “Healing also encompasses the idea of wholeness which the Dinka (and other African people), value as state of balanced and harmonious relationship between people, God, ancestors and nature. Health is a state of complete wellbeing based on a way of living, conduct and behaviour in relation to others. It gives due respect to the dignity of the person and brings about a link of the person with God, ancestors, community and the environment”.

Therefore, healing takes cognizance of more holistic ethno-medical model that utilizes cultural resources, individual agency and peer to peer support in psycho-social healing and wellbeing.

The head of Counselling Unit in the National Police Service Ms. Evelyne Njeri Mbugua (Senior Superintendent) says the process of healing and breaking cycles of violence requires the effort of each and every one of us to return to balance, strengthen relationships, restore dignity and enhance healthy relationships with the community.

She says, healing the Uniform program strives to strengthen the social fabric in a sustainable manner that will enhance individual and collective wellbeing and resilience of wananchi and police officers.

For the National Police Service, Muamko Mpya –Healing the Uniform program builds on the on-going Psycho-social support that NPS provides to officers. In this program, NPS in conjunction with GSN support officers in:

  1. Sharpening their trauma sensitivity and response (recognizing trauma in themselves and the communities they serve)
  2. Increasing their repertoire of trauma-informed tools, skills and approaches
  3. Amplifying processes that enhance the role  of the police stations as avenues of healing of both officers and the community
  4. Amplifying healthy relationships between officers and the community.
  5. Creating a pool of informed healing team to identify and assist officers going through traumatic experience.

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