Police union calls for change after suicide death at AFP headquarters
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Police union calls for change after suicide death at AFP headquarters

The tragic suicide death of a federal agent in the gun locker at Australian Federal Police headquarters in Barton at the weekend has sparked a further call from the police association for more involved talks with Commissioner Andrew Colvin over officer wellbeing and mental health.

Australian Federal Police Association president Angela Smith said she had received numerous concerned texts and phone calls from members over the weekend since the incident, the second suicide in six weeks in the Barton basement and following two others in Melbourne last year.

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The federal police set up a program called Safe Place on the recommendation of the Broderick Report in 2016. It was originally conceived to deal with bullying and other workplace-related issues. The death of the member in Melbourne early last year then led to the creation of an AFP-wide welfare officer network based on the well-established ACT Policing model.

However, Safe Place and the welfare officer network has been so inundated with cases that even very experienced officers seconded to the team have struggled to keep pace with the workload.

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The Canberra Times understands the officer who died on the weekend was attached to the AFP Safe Place office.

Angela Smith said that although Safe Place was instigated promptly by Commissioner Colvin with the very best of intentions, clearly there needed to be a fresh look at how it is structured, how it operates, and how it is resourced.

Australian Federal Police Association president Angela Smith.

Australian Federal Police Association president Angela Smith.Credit:Rohan Thomson

"The whole of the AFP's wellbeing area needs more support," Ms Smith said.

"Members are distrustful of the External Assistance Program as it doesn’t deal with police and police related matters very well. And members won't declare their psychological stress for fear of being stigmatised.

"What's needed - and this is one of the key issues that I would like to discuss with Commissioner Colvin - is an independent officer wellbeing model dedicated to AFP employees, but which is not directly connected to the AFP, to get on top of this tragic issue.

"We have to stop making mental health-related issues abnormal because that prevents good officers seeking proper support. We need to make it normal. Make it routine and destigmatised.”

The Australian Federal Police Association represents 4000 sworn and unsworn officers.

For support, call Lifeline 131 114, beyondblue 1300 224 636 or MensLine 1300 789 978.

Peter Brewer is a Canberra Times reporter.

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