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Trauma Resilience in UK Policing


Everyday trauma exposure is becoming increasingly accepted as part of contemporary policing, yet there are no means of quantifying it. The Policing: The Job & The Life Survey (2018) established that over 90% of UK police have had experiences on the job which have been traumatic, with over 20% still being effected by those incidents to clinical levels of disorder (i.e. having come from of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). National headlines, documentaries, and calls to “protect the protectors” over the past few years all suggest that trauma exposure in policing is recognisable and an accepted part of the job. However, of the 43 forces across the UK, few (if any) are known to regularly quantify police-specific trauma exposure or trauma impact in a measured, organised and reliable way. The final component of this study is to produce the UK’s first police-specific trauma exposure events checklist to enable forces to do just that.

What will this achieve?

The objectives of the checklist will be to:
  • Provide a meaningful list of types of policing jobs and incidents that officers and staff can relate to as being potentially or experientially traumatic;
  • Address the stigma of self-reporting trauma exposure (and its impact) by providing a common language with which to validate processing these experiences as being an integral part of the job;
  • Offer a means of individuals, teams, and forces to self-assess for trauma exposure impact over periods of time and within specific job roles;
  • Ascertain if certain types of incidents might predict higher levels of trauma impact or disorder;
  • Begin to investigate if there are any specific policing job roles where types of trauma exposure are common and therefore may be more associated with trauma impact or disorder.

How will we do this?

Working in collaboration with the Police Federation of England & Wales and Police Care UK, we will code up to 10,000 trauma exposures reported in survey data in 2018. Based on a comprehensive literature review and with clinical lead from world-leading trauma expertise (Prof Chris Brewin UCL), the coding will enable us to learn what experiences are commonly considered traumatic by officers and staff of all ranks across the UK. With a coding framework established, the review should produce a definitive checklist which best reflects our police service’s true experiences of trauma on the job.

What will it look like and how will people use it?

The checklist will be similar in nature to those already publically available for civilians to self-report trauma exposure, such as the Life Events Checklist. (1)

Our police-specific checklist will include police-specific items that describe incidents and jobs known to be traumatic in the main. Types of incidents already understood to be traumatic include:

  • Child deaths, abuse or suffering
  • Fatal road traffic collisions
  • Sudden deaths
  • Injury and threat to life to self or colleague

In addition to this list of incidents, contextual components which may compound trauma impact will also be described, which officers and staff may relate to. These police-specific contexts will be gleaned from the coding of the 10000 free-text survey responses where officers and staff go into more detail about the circumstances of the incident which may have made it harder to process make sense of and move on from. Such contexts include incidents being a “first” for them (their first sudden death, for example) or incidents where victims resembled a loved one.

The checklist can be used by individuals who want to self-check their exposure:

  • Because they are feeling overwhelmed by the number of recent exposures,
  • As part of their one-to-ones or supervision,
  • By way of managing their overall stress levels at home and at work,
  • In support of their access to trauma processing training, counseling or therapy,
  • As part of their career management and decisions about job training or promotion,
  • Or for general interest in how they are adapting to their job.

The checklist may also be used in force by supervisors, team leaders, Occupation Health, wellbeing leads, Trauma Risk Management (TRiM) practitioners, federation or staff association representatives, counselors, and therapists to check exposure levels with officers and staff.

Essentially, the checklist is intended to provide police with the opportunity to see in words a reflection of the trauma exposure they are required to process as part of their day job and to enable them to check-in on their resilience and acknowledge the demands and rewards of a job like no other.


(1) Gray, M., Litz, B., Hsu, J., & Lombardo, T. (2004). "Psychometric properties of the Life Events Checklist", Assessment, 11: 330-341. doi: 10.1177/1073191104269954 PILOTS ID: 26825

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