The Control Yuan has called on the National Police Agency (NPA) to improve officer suicide prevention after finding numerous failings in police counseling services and work conditions.
Law enforcement is a high-stress profession with long, irregular hours and intense pressure to meet performance targets that put officers at a greater risk of mental illness, Control Yuan members Yeh Ta-hua (葉大華) and Chen Chin-jun (陳景峻) wrote in an investigative report dated Jan. 17.
Fifty-two police officers have taken their own lives since 2014, with 22 of the suicides occurring in just the past four years, showing that stress factors in the profession have worsened, the report said.
Photo: Taipei Times
Only five of the officers who committed suicide sought or received counseling from the NPA and none had been flagged for abnormal behavior or being unwell by their superiors, suggesting poor standards of care and an inability to detect risks, it said.
Citing the NPA’s Police Personnel Suicide Prevention Manual, the report said that an estimated 10,000 officers have stress-related emotional problems and 6,000 have thought about suicide.
The NPA annually allocates NT$3.7 million (US$118,427) for suicide prevention, equivalent to spending NT$0.15 for every NT$1,000 the agency received from the government, it said.
Meanwhile, in the past few years, no more than 600 officers received counseling in a given year, and in some years, as few as 300 officers, or less than 0.5 percent of those experiencing suicidal ideation, it said.
The findings clearly show a need to re-examine the NPA’s officer performance evaluation and work rotation practices to avoid undue stress and chronic lack of sleep in its ranks, as well as improve the personnel management policies of law enforcement organizations, it said.
The report singled out the NPA’s practice of assigning senior officers to provide counseling to colleagues, saying that their lack of credentials, the emphasis on hierarchy in police culture and poor funding contributed to the program’s ineffectiveness.
A total of 788 peer counselors means there is fewer than one counselor for every 100 distressed officers, who might not want to seek help from a superior to avoid professional repercussions, it said.
The NPA’s standing orders for police supervisors to monitor their subordinates’ mental well-being and organize group therapy and mental health lectures are being carried out with little attention at achieving results, it said.
Police institutions should be structured to create a culture that encourages officers to ask for help and aid others with mental health issues in the context of an organization that values obedience and performance metrics, it said.
Although the Central Police University and Taiwan Police College provide counseling for students, no mechanism exists to continue this care after counselees become officers, the report said.
The report recommended that the NPA establish a system to provide mental healthcare without compromising an officer’s right to privacy and the trust necessary for counseling.
Police departments and agencies should ensure they provide mental health resources that meet the standards established in the Suicide Prevention Act (自殺防治法) and make better use of local government’s health and welfare capabilities, it said.
In addition, law enforcement agencies are poorly investigating suicides, often using factors of personal health or an officer’s love life to make conclusions that protect supervisors from blame, it said.
Institutional, occupational and environmental factors that might have contributed to police suicides — including workplace bullying — have not been sufficiently explored, for which the NPA is at fault, it said.
Police agencies should call on outside experts and academics to jointly investigate the causes of police suicide to identify organizational flaws and mistakes, it said.
The NPA said it has instructed relevant offices to look into officer suicides and urged law enforcement organizations to be more proactive in caring for officers’ mental health, family life and work-related issues.
Additional reporting by Chiu Chun-fu
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