The WA Police Commissioner has admitted the service has not been good at identifying officers’ mental health issues, and said he regrets not getting a workers compensation scheme up and running for victims in the state before leaving his post.
Photo: WA Police commissioner Karl O’Callaghan says officers retired for mental health reasons need recognition. ABC News: Riley Stuart
The union has long fought for a compensation scheme to cover medically-retired officers, who are currently dealt with under loss of confidence provisions.
Karl O’Callaghan said it had taken too long to publicly acknowledge the impact of mental health problems.
“We have not been good at acknowledging the role that mental health plays in an officer’s ability to continue work,” he said.
“One of the pieces of feedback we got from a lot of officers is they felt that once they weren’t able to continue, that they were not part of the family.
“They were not kept in contact [with] and people didn’t actually care about them.
“We could’ve done more to help those police officers feel like they still belonged and manage their movement out of the organisation into civilian life.”
Commissioner O’Callaghan said a compensation scheme would also go some way towards assisting people forced to retire because their mental health was injured on the job.
“While police officers who get catastrophic physical injury are well-recognised because of the high media profile, there are many many officers who don’t get recognised at all because mental health doesn’t attract that level of media interest,” he said.
“I think the second thing is being able to maintain contact with those people, and I think that part of the solution here will be the advent of workers compensation and redress for the people who haven’t received it.”
The outgoing commissioner, who is set to leave later this month, said he had hoped to sort out a proper workers compensation scheme before his term ended, but had not been able to.
“There does need to be a balance, and I think what we’ve got to do is work out where that balance is and it’s been one of the difficulties in arriving at a system which adequately compensates police officers who are not able to continue,” he said.
More historical stars to be awarded
Commissioner O’Callaghan said the police star was an opportunity to recognise all officers who had been injured or killed in the line of duty — as well as officers who had suffered mental health injuries.
Police stars were awarded to 78 deceased, retired and serving officers and staff at the inaugural ceremony at Joondalup this week.
Stars went to Gavin Capes, David Dewar, Donald Everett and Philip Ruland, who died in a plane crash in 2001.
The extensive honour list reached back into the 1800s.
Among those who died in the line of duty, the star was awarded to David Gaunt (motorcycle accident, 1996), Arthur Douglas (traffic accident, 1988), Colin Cusack ( murdered, 1968), and Robin Bell (traffic accident, 1964).
And there was Constable Patrick Hackett, who was murdered in 1884.
“I don’t think you can discriminate when a police officer’s been killed on duty, about when they died,” Commissioner O’Callaghan said.
“Their families, even though they might be generations ago, are still entitled to recognition that their police officer died in the line of duty and so we haven’t drawn a line about how far back we’ll award the medal.
“We’re saying that any person who’s ever served with Western Australia Police who dies on duty gets access to this medal and recognition, and the same for people who are no longer able to continue work because of injury.”
It is expected there will be more historical cases highlighted in future years.
This piece was first seen on ‘ABC News’ 6 Aug, 2017.