Call to improve handling of police welfare
South West Superintendent Lawrence Panaia

THE State Government should dramatically improve its handling of police officers’ mental health and welfare, according to the region’s police chief.

South West District Superintendent Lawrence Panaia has backed a call by the WA Police Union, saying police welfare was his priority.

Last week the union submitted multiple recommendations to a parliamentary inquiry into support for emergency services based on a survey of 141 serving officers.

The submission outlined a range of barriers stopping officers from accessing counselling, including insufficient resourcing of WA Police’s health and welfare division.

The union also called for compulsory counselling after traumatic experiences. Supt Panaia said his number-one priority was the welfare of his staff.

‘‘The strategy is simple — my first objective is to make sure my staff get home safe and then to do the same for the community,’’ he said.

‘‘If I fail to achieve the first, we can’t deliver the second. It’s not something I take lightly but something I work tirelessly to make happen.’’

Coroner Alastair Hope made four recommendations in his 39-page inquest findings into the suicide of Collie police officer Elliot Watt released three months ago.

He recommended WA police conduct wellness reviews on every officer in the State each year, to train officers to identify and manage depression, to install computer software to record the health and welfare of officers and to provide information to families about help services available.

The WA Police Union backed the recommendations at the time, saying they were ‘‘long overdue’’.

Supt Panaia said following a spate of deaths in the Donnybrook area, health and welfare staff were sent to the sub-station in case officers needed counselling.

‘‘We do it as a matter of course,’’ he said. ‘‘In all sincerity, we make sure our officers are well looked after.’’

Supt Panaia said extensive training, equipment and support went towards ensuring the mental and physical welfare of the officers.

‘‘Looked at objectively, performance is synonymous with safety,’’ he said.

‘‘We can ensure the best facilities and instructors are available, but it’s up to (the officers) to use it correctly and with the right attitude and behaviour to optimise performance.’’

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