SENIOR Sergeant Leon Wort has witnessed some of the most horrific crimes imaginable in his 18 years on the job.
The Nerang-based forensics officer was one of the first on the scene when two fellow officers were shot on the Coast.
He was there when Detective Senior Constable Damian Leeding was murdered and again when dog handler Sergeant Gary Hamrey was wounded in the head — both after robberies gone wrong.
But despite the trauma, the police veteran says it is the “little” things that get to officers.
American behavioural scientist Kevin Gilmartin, a former police officer, gave a presentation to a large group of Gold Coast police about finding an off-duty balance to fight depression.
Snr Sergeant Leon Wort pictured with Dr Kevin Gilmartin. Pic: David Clark
“As a biological response to being hyper-vigilant on the job, police are alert, alive, energetic and involved at work,” he said. “But then when it comes time to switch off, they can become tired, detached, isolated and sink into a depressive state.
We need to help these officers set up a protective lifestyle for themselves.”
Sen-Sgt Wort agreed hyper-vigilance took a toll on police. “I wish I had received some of this advice earlier in my career. It can be hard to just switch it off when you get home,” he said.
“But then when it comes time to switch off, they can become tired, detached, isolated and sink into a depressive state.
“We need to help these officers set up a protective lifestyle for themselves.
“Often it is not the big trauma that will affect officers but the little things that build up when they’re not living a healthy lifestyle.”
Sen Sgt Wort agreed hyper-vigilance took its toll on police.
“I wish I had received some of this advice earlier in my career — it can be hard to just switch it off when you get home,” he said.
“It can be a very stressful job.
“I have been involved in all the police shootings on the Gold Coast.
“The important message is, it’s not just those defining critical incidents that have a long-term impact, it’s the hypervigilance that wears you down.
“In this job there will be other incidents — it’s about a long term and sustained way of living.
“Dr Gilmartin suggested officers have personal calendars to plan time with loved ones and we will be trying that at home.”
Sen Sgt Wort’s wife Kerry said the seminar had made her more aware of the issues facing her husband of 12 years.
“We do need to be proactive and make time together — after a long day it can be hard to switch off,” she said.
“It can be tough, being a police officer’s wife.
“It’s mainly just wondering if he is okay, knowing what he has to listen to and see.
“We look forward to putting some of the things we learned into practice.”
Dr Gilmartin said officers should be doing 22 minutes of physical activity a day, should pursue hobbies they enjoyed and should always make time for family and friends.
“Police taking control of their personal life is what is needed to see a shift,” he said.
“Many officers over-invest in the job and under-invest at home — we need to change that.
“It will result in a better police department to protect your community.”
If you or anyone you know needs help, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.
This article first appeared on ‘Gold Coast Bulletin’ on 2 March 2016.