Police officers need society and the media

Current media reports of police killings and suicides should be a national concern and must be discouraged and confronted.

This trend will continue if society does not accept that policemen and women are also human beings.

It is equally regrettable that society perceives police officers to be superhuman.

Every individual in our society must discourage the erroneous perception that portrays police officers to be strong and tough, likening them to the "cowboys don't cry" mantra.

It must be put on record that the South African Police Service (SAPS) is totally committed to the betterment of this situation.

The challenge for the total eradication of this global phenomenon must not only be confined to the SAPS management. Every single member of all our communities has a role to play.

Fundamentally, all police officers are part of the community and lead ordinary community lives, just like anybody else.

Potential role players who must add value to the desired solution of the problem include family members, friends, neighbours and the local community where these policemen and women reside.

They are the ones who interact with our members on a social basis. A caring family member, friend, neighbour or a community member will always be in a better position to detect a concealed problem from a normal conversation. Like ordinary members of the community, police officers need care, empathy, love and protection.

Finger pointing will not help anyone to find solutions. Instead, it will derail our normal thinking to arrest the situation.

A permanent solution will be found through collective contribution that is aimed at augmenting the existing support mechanisms that have been initiated by the SAPS with the view to minimising the trend.

Media should play a meaningful role by reporting responsibly and in a sensible manner without suggesting that the trend persists in the SAPS. One can only assume that police suicides receive media attention simply because of their social status. Such media reports create negative understanding and negative portrayal of the SAPS in the eyes of ordinary members of the community.

The media could make a positive contribution by honestly reporting on the remedial efforts that have been put in place by the SAPS. For instance, the establishment of Employee Assistance Services (EAS) in the service is primarily intended to address social and emotional problems experienced by employees and their families. The services are provided free of charge on a 24-hour basis by professionals in the SAPS.

The Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) call centre under the wing of the EAS is manned by social workers, psychologists and pastors who offer professional and confidential counselling to members and their immediate families.

Families, neighbours, relatives, friends and colleagues are urged to call: 0860-103-055 if they notice any strange behavioural changes in a police officer.

While it cannot be denied that some of the suicide incidents and family killings involve police officers, it can be argued and emphasised that this is not limited to police officers only.

Our focus therefore as a nation should be to address this phenomenon as a societal, rather than a police problem.

l Superintendent Sebola writes in his personal capacity.