Former Suffolk police officer reveals all in book
A former Suffolk police officer has penned a revealing account of his time in the force - lifting the lid on how stress and exposure to major trauma meant leaving to preserve his sanity.
Jeremy Cohen's no-holds-barred book covers 13 years in the constabulary – first as a response officer in Ipswich – and later in the roads policing unit at police headquarters.
In an eye-opening interview, the former 'Officer 1481' claims swinging government funding cuts have put unrelenting pressure on the service he dreamed of joining.
Mr Cohen became an officer in March 2005, aged 22, to “feel part of something bigger” and serve the county he still loves, despite moving his family almost 4,000 miles away to start anew after handing in his epaulettes – in the interest of “self-preservation” – last June.
“I attended countless fatal and life-altering collisions; moments that I saw and felt the destruction on people's loved ones,” he said.
“Unfortunately, nearly all of them could have been avoided.
“The use of a mobile phone, a drink or drug-driver, speed, people failing to wear seatbelts, and tiredness, all caused deaths that should never have happened.
“The death of anyone was a tragedy, but the deaths of, or serious injury to children, who were put into vehicles where the driver had responsibility for their safety, were some of the hardest things to deal with.”
Mr Cohen, who now lives in Virginia, worked as a police pursuit commander and serious/fatal collision vehicle examiner during a career that included helping to deliver a baby and saving a woman's life in two incidents on the Orwell Bridge.
“The thrill and adrenaline rush of chasing down a burglar and driving on blue light runs; or painstakingly sifting through a wreckage, piecing together the clues of why a vehicle did, or did not contribute to a collision, left me feeling a sense of pride,” he said.
“I worked as a family liaison officer, helping and being there for families following a road death fatality – a job that was both rewarding and so emotionally hard that it ended up causing me great anxiety.”
Mr Cohen called Suffolk Constabulary a “truly tremendous force”, training officers to the highest standards, showing transparency to the public and getting good results.
He believes increased use of automatic number plate recognition and the advent of roadside drug testing has made the roads safer, and that investment in new technology would help officers stay out on the street.
But, he added: “The honest truth is that Suffolk Constabulary faces a tough future – instigated when hit hard by government imposed budget cuts, with departments and stations being culled, reducing the number of officers readily available in a given area.
“Fewer local custody blocks mean staff having to travel that much further from their patrol area – or find new ways to deal with people who should ultimately be arrested – and the experienced officers walking out the door.
“Response teams around the county have turned into just that – they respond – they are the workhorses that get called upon for everything. Proactivity has all but disappeared.
“The roads policing unit – a department that, when I joined, had five dedicated and trained officers on each shift – is now down to two dedicated officers, which is a travesty for the safety of the manic roads of today.
“A 'remedy' of including the firearms officer's in roads policing numbers had little to no effect. With ever-increasing knife crime, the county's armed response vehicles were eaten up daily, and with the vast amount of training the spare firearms officers complete, they were rarely there to help.
“Knife and drug crime are becoming serious issues, especially in Ipswich – a place I have seen the population explode; new houses, new cars, but no new infrastructure or officers to police the ever growing population.
“The criminals see this. There is a growing awareness that the police are over-stretched, and the fear of having an officer just around the corner to disrupt their criminal activity is disappearing.
“Resources are stretched and, increasingly, experienced officers are suffering from mental ill-health and leaving a job many thought they had for life.
“Unless things change, I can see crime rates continuing to rise, and the public being made to suffer a bad service from the police, who once prided themselves on offering the gold standard of policing.
“For me, personally, I was often alone; the sole dedicated roads policing unit on a shift for more than a year, battling daily against the unrelenting incident demand.
“It was common for my colleagues and I to go shifts without any kind of meal break, and if we did sit down, we would end up throwing food away for it was not long before the next call came in.
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“I started to change at home. The resulting pressure and stress of this exposure to major trauma, and stress for an extended period of time, was beating me.
“I became reclusive. I didn't want to see or speak to anyone. My family bore the brunt of my increasing depression. I was losing control over a job I loved, and I did not want to lose my family too.
“I made a decision to leave the police in the hope of escaping the intense stress. A decision that, to this day, upsets me.
“I loved my work and felt I was good at it, but ultimately, I knew I could not continue.
“As I saw it, due to the deep-reaching government funding cuts, the great British police forces had been killed, and it would be some time before that balance was restored.
“Had I stayed in Suffolk or the UK, I knew I would never be able to leave a job I knew, I loved and was good at. But, had I not, I don't know where my mind would have ended up.
“If it was not for the support of my family, and especially that of my loving wife, who stood beside me the entire time, also sacrificing her career as a newly trained midwife, in a selfless attempt at preserving my sanity and life, I do not know where I would have ended up.
“I then chose to write a book, Sworn In – The career of Officer 1481, chronicling my career, providing an insight into the kind of incidents I, and officers the world over deal with daily – that the public never gets to see.
“It provided a way for me to clear my mind, remove some 'files'; those horrific incidents I had been witness to, and the resulting images that were stored in my mind.
“Although difficult, I also included how the constant exposure to major trauma and stress affected me personally.
“Ironically I was always a closed book, but I hope that by being up-front and honest, I can help other officers from leaving a career that is great, and also to show the public that it's not all 'catching speeders', but is in fact a truly incredible and often an emotionally breaking service – provided so they can have a safer and more pleasant life.”
Mr Cohen's book is available in both paperback and e-book format from Amazon.
He hopes to achieve sufficient sales to enable a donation to the East Anglian Air Ambulance – a charity he regularly worked alongside.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We are committed to ensuring police forces have the resources they need to carry out their vital work, and have reviewed the changing and increasingly complex demands on them.
“In 2019/20, Suffolk Police's funding will be £125.2million – an increase of £9m.
“We also know that police officers do an incredibly difficult and demanding job, and we take our responsibilities for their physical and mental health very seriously. That is why we are investing £7.5m into a new nationwide Police Wellbeing Service to improve the support on offer, and are looking forward to its initial roll-out.”
Following two years of development and piloting, the initial roll-out of the national police wellbeing service will commence shortly.
Since 2015, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary has included wellbeing as part of its annual PEEL inspections to ensure that officers and the public can see how well each force supports the wellbeing of its workforce.
Meanwhile, the Assaults on Emergency Workers Act, which came into effect on November 13, means judges must consider tougher sentences for those who assaults on emergency workers.
Deputy Chief Constable Rachel Kearton said Suffolk police had been nationally recognised for providing among the best support services in the country, with a 24-hour mental health helpline and peer-provided counselling on offer.
“Although PTSD has been around since the First World War, or earlier, we are much better at diagnosing it today,” she added.
“Within the police, it's just the same. Those people receiving support for traumatic experiences weren't labelled 10 or 15 years ago.
“Quite rightly, there's better legislation in place, and employment law requires us to keep our staff safe.
“It's something we take very seriously.”
She said last October's operational restructure had put more than 100 officers into safer neighbourhood teams, with further investment in the local policing response planned throughout 2019, and this year's council tax precept rise due to contribute more funding towards proactive policing.