Former police officers suffering post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) say excessive surveillance by an insurance company is making their trauma worse.
For months on end, former police sergeant Peter Klein has been subjected to endless hours of video surveillance by insurance company MetLife, which is assessing his claim for PTSD.
“It’s massively intimidating,” he says.
“They’ve been up my driveway. They’ve sat out there. There’s footage of me at my letterbox. It’s very ominous-looking. To have surveillance logs or surveillance video induces a massive amount of guilt and trepidation in me.”
Mr Klein’s policing career started like a boy’s own adventure. Commencing with Tasmania Police in 1994, he transferred to New South Wales in 1998.
His favourite job was working in the force’s air wing division, where he conducted dramatic rescues hanging from a helicopter winch.
During his time on the job, his mental health became eroded by daily exposure to death and tragedy, but it is what has happened since that has compounded his pain.
To escape the constant scrutiny of surveillance, he made his home a fortress, hanging blankets at some windows and taping others up with tin foil.
The irony is not lost on him that as a police officer he used to watch criminals do the very same thing.
“It made me feel perhaps I’m losing my mind; you know, I’m sticking tin-foil up in my own home trying to stop people I don’t even know looking through my window,” he said.
Cop shattered by exposure to human tragedy at suicide hotspot
Mr Klein spent many grisly hours at The Gap, a dramatic cliff face off Sydney’s Watson’s Bay.
“A lot of your job predominantly was picking up people’s shattered remains that had committed suicide off The Gap,” he said.
“I’ve had to chase crows that’ve picked up a bit of skull and ear from the shattered remains of a suicide victim.
“[I’d] wonder whether or not I’d get in more trouble for trying to get the ear back for the Coroner by discharging my firearm out towards the crow, out towards the headland.
“I just got to a point where enough human tragedy was enough for me.”
Mr Klein’s psychiatrist has recommended he go to the cliff as part of his recovery, but his return was enormously difficult and he could not stay long.
Insurer’s surveillance accused of hampering recovery
For the 18 months since he put in his insurance claim, Mr Klein has been paid under $400 a week by the insurance company.
“Forty-one years of age, having your friends and family pay for simple things like food after you’ve worked two or three jobs, never took a day off that you didn’t really need, did everything to build your life,” he said.
“In the last two years I’ve lost my job, my career, my marriage.”
But his attempt at recovery have been stymied by surveillance and delay by MetLife, the police force’s former insurer.
Mr Klein says MetLife “simply wants him to give up”.
“Why am I still being watched? Why is this still going on? Because to me, surveillance means you’re up to no good.”
Another former cop haunted by visions of the dead
Former senior constable Andy Peverill knows all about surveillance too: for six months this year, he has been endlessly watched outside his Parkes property by video surveillance operatives.
Mr Peverill’s wife, Michelle, showed 7.30 one of the nine DVDs of surveillance they have obtained from MetLife.
Investigators film the couple every time they leave the house.
“He has to come with me; he can’t be left on his own,” said Ms Peverill.
“The last time I left him on his own, he cut half of his hair off because he got extremely anxious. And then another time I left him on his own, he started a grassfire without supervision.”
Mr Peverill worked for 10 years at the Parkes police station on general duties.
“When I signed up, I never signed up to get PTSD. I signed up to make a difference. To do a good job,” he said.
“The simplest way to tell people is just tell them I see dead people. The people I see… they were living. But they won’t go away. They just keep coming back.
“They’re back now.”
Mr Peverill’s duties included having to count limbs after traffic accidents, trying and failing to rescue teenagers from a burning car, and giving CPR to a friend’s brother who had hanged himself and who then died in his arms.
One day, he simply could not go to work any more.
“And on that last morning I think he just stepped out of his brain,” Ms Peverill said.
“Something triggered him with his uniform and he just lost the plot and I said ‘What’s the matter?’ and he just said ‘I’m not doing it any more. Don’t make me do it’.
Mr Peverill’s desperation reached a limit one day when his wife found him in the shed.
“And I said ‘Well what are you doing?’ because he was just standing there aimlessly and he said ‘I was just thinking whether or not I would hang myself or I’d connect a hosepipe up to the car’,” Ms Peverill said.
Minute’s silence for those who’ve taken their lives
MetLife lost the contract for NSW Police death and disability insurance last year.
The officers believe the reason claims are being dragged out is because MetLife has lost the income stream but still carries the obligation to pay injured police.
Mr Peverill and Mr Klein are just two of a group of former police who call themselves the Forgotten 300.
They say their claims have been delayed by successive insurers of the NSW Force.
This week, the officers invited 7.30 to film a minute’s silence for colleagues who have taken their lives.
New South Wales Greens MP David Shoebridge represented many injured police in his former life as a barrister.
“Even the most legitimate claims, they will take on appeal to the Court of Appeal, on appeal to the High Court to avoid making a fair payment to injured police.
“And that fighting of the claims further aggravates an often awkward and difficult psychological injury in the first place. They’re injured on the job and then they’re injured again through the claims process.”
Psychiatrist says surveillance is “grossly unfair”
Mr Klein’s psychiatrist, Dr Hugh Morgan, says the surveillance is “dehumanising” and “humiliating”.
“It’s a really horrible process and I think it’s grossly, grossly unfair,” he said.
“I can understand that an insurance company would want to make sure that a claim was valid but I think that the surveillance that has been occurring with my patient has just been relentless.
“And it has gone on and on and on and I can only see that this is like harassment.
“And of course what this has done has made Peter completely kind of overwhelmed, fearful, frightened about getting out and doing the things that would actually help in his recovery.”
Despite numerous approaches by 7.30, neither the Police Commissioner nor MetLife would talk to the ABC.
In a statement, police said: “NSW Police is aware of the delays in MetLife’s determination… and the methods used in assessing those claims.
“The force is disappointed with the delays… and is concerned at the impact on [former officers’] ongoing treatment and recovery. The force has voiced its concerns about the delays.”
MetLife says it has introduced a number of new initiatives, such as putting on more staff in effort to speed up what it calls incredibly complex claims. But it defends its use of surveillance as “industry standard”.
This article first appeared on ‘ABC News’ on 20 December 2013.