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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 has been to produce the UK’s first police-specific traumatic events checklist to enable forces to do just that.

What does PTEC achieve?

  • Provides a meaningful list of types of policing jobs and incidents that officers and staff can relate to as being potentially or experientially traumatic;
  • Addresses 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;
  • Offers a means of individuals, teams, and forces to self-assess for trauma exposure impact over periods of time and within specific job roles;

How was PTEC created and with whom?

Working in collaboration with the Police Federation of England & Wales (PFEW) and Police Care UK, we coded over 1500 of officers and staff's worst reported incidents on the job,  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 has enabled us to learn what experiences are commonly considered traumatic by officers and staff of all ranks across the UK and we have been able to produce a definitive checklist which best reflects our police service’s true experiences of trauma on the job. We are now cognitiviely testing PTEC, validating its application in non-clinical settings within operational policing and are intending to test its predictive capacity for work-related Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Complex PTSD, working in collaboration with the PFEW, academics, Chief Medical Officers and wellbeing leads at a national level. 

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

The checklist is a police-specific version of a checklist which is already publically available for civilians to self-report trauma exposure, Life Events Checklist (1) 

Our police-specific checklist includes 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 (situational) components which may compound trauma impact are also described, which officers and staff may relate to. These police-specific situational factors have been coded from officers' and staff's more detailed coverage of the circumstances in which the incident took place, circumstances 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 presented as two lists, or in a matrix format which represents incidents and their situational factors by the frequency of their being ranked as officers and staff's "worst" experiences. It is important to note that ALL incidents and situational factors have been reported as being 'worst' experiences on the job in the Policing: The Job & The Life survey. There are opportunities to include Other incidents and Other situational factors that may not be covered by the descriptions of typically worst experiences so that those using the screen have an opportunity to express their trauma exposure in their own words and unique way. There are also additional categories relating to Covid-related trauma exposure for incidents and situaional factors. 

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,
  • To support their engagement with other internal processes in HR, Occ Health and with interventions such as TRiM
  • By way of managing their overall stress levels at home and at work,
  • As a means of monitoring changes in types of exposure over time (eg during and post-Covid)
  • In support of their access to trauma processing training, counselling 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, counsellors, and therapists to check exposure levels with officers and staff and manage risk.

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.

How to use PTEC is available in a simple guide and there is a full series including PTEC for: Individuals, Leaders, Peer Support, Recruitment, Trauma Triage, Trauma Risk Management (TRiM), Wellbeing Leads and whole Force Systems. To view the series, click here.

The peer-reviwed paper is available here.  Make sure you view the Supplementary Material to find the Instructions on how to use PTEC (including the checklist in draft format)

(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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