Metro cop's attempted suicide raises debate of police counselling

26 January 2018 - 06:59
By Kgaugelo Masweneng
Police Line
Image: GALLO IMAGES Police Line

The Johannesburg metro cop who tried to kill herself and her two children was driven by anger over her boyfriend’s “shenanigans”‚ a neighbour has said.

On Sunday‚ the woman‚ who is said to have lived with her two children‚ consumed rat poison‚ and shot her eight-year-old son in the left leg and her 11-year-old daughter in the abdomen.

The neighbour‚ who asked not to be named‚ told TimesLIVE that the woman’s boyfriend had “defrauded” her of her late husband’s policy payouts.

“It was round 11am and I was taking a shower when I heard gunshots. We all went out to see what happened. When we got there she looked different. Terrified. She was crying and asking for help. She was hysterical‚” the neighbour said.

“I don’t think she planned to hurt her kids over a boyfriend; she carried them for nine months. The problem is that she has been depressed for a while. She has been in and out of counselling in the past months. She was angry and depressed because apparently her married boyfriend wiped out her late husband’s money and left her dry and out. The money went to trips for two and a car. He’s a fraud and a scam.”

The incident happened at the officer’s home in Green Village‚ Soweto‚ on Sunday. She was described as a loving mother‚ a good friend and a peaceful neighbour.

The officer and her injured children were taken to Tshepo Themba Private Hospital.

“Charges against the officer will be determined pending the outcome of the investigation‚ both internally as well as by the SAPS‚” said Metro Police spokesman Wayne Minnaar.

The incident has raised questions over how police trauma is handled – and about what help they get. One expert raised the question: What happens when police‚ meant to be defenders of the law‚ are accused of killing‚ attacking‚ and abusing their family members and intimate partners?

Though the police system has long introduced the Employee Health and Wellness Programme to psychologically rehabilitate officers‚ it’s not often that they go for counselling sessions‚ said Gareth Newham‚ head of justice and violence prevention at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS).

“There is a culture within the police department of looking upon counselling as a weakness. Throughout the world‚ most police departments don’t really know how to deal with mental and psychological impacts of the job‚” said Newman.

According to Newman‚ relationship challenges‚ financial and work stress‚ and substance abuse can lead to a person‚ even an officer of the law‚ breaking the law.

“They think that if you seek psychological help you might seem like you are not coping and‚ as a result‚ they think that might jeopardise their chance of getting a promotion or something like that‚” Newman said.

“The hero syndrome issue also affects how they perceive the matter. They take it that they should be strong and save others‚ and not themselves. They need counselling every now and then because of the kind of things they see‚ it’s sometimes traumatic and stressful.”

Trauma counselling is not compulsory within the police department‚ but maybe it should be as some people need it‚ he said.