Around three years ago Detective Inspector Rachael Cox attended a sudden death in the south of Lincolnshire where a person had been deceased for quite a while and the body was decomposed through burning.
The incident, including the smell she encountered that day, has stayed with her, and she is now using her experiences of dealing with traumatic incidents to help others in the force.
In 2019, she is became the lead for TRiM at Lincolnshire Police, which first launched back in 2011 and is a peer-to-peer scheme to give officers and staff involved in traumatic incidents the opportunity to speak to others about it.
Rachael told The Lincolnite: “It’s not just about what you see. It’s about having to assess that body and make sure that there’s nothing untoward, so I had to touch it.
“It’s the thoughts and feelings, and then what reminds me of that smell. This was three years ago and I can still smell it, avoiding the area that it happened in because I don’t want to have the flashback and be reminded of it, being worried that I’m going to go to the next job and it’s going to be the same.
“For me, with sudden death in particular, I know what happens when the undertakers turn up, so I know when my nan died what was going to happen when they turned up and that sometimes can be personal and it’s quite hard to deal with.”
Examples of traumatic incidents include murder, fatal crashes, serious assaults, child-related deaths and officer assaults, and are among the things that the TRiM team would mandatory refer for.
Reaction to these incidents may not be immediate as officers or staff don’t always have time to process it until they are on their way home.
When asked if that experience and dealing with other traumatic incidents had helped in her current role, Rachael said: “Yes, absolutely, because actually what people need to be told is it’s okay to feel the way that you do and that makes them feel a lot better.”
She added: “What police officers do, as lots of different professionals, is fill up the tank until it explodes and that’s what we’re trying to avoid: people getting to the point where they can’t cope because they’ve not spoken.
“Society has massively changed. People are more willing to put their hand in the air and say ‘I need some help’. Over the last two to three years people have been more willing to say they need some assistance.
“Trauma is very specific because what affects me doesn’t affect you and vice versa, so this is down to people acknowledging that actually somethings bothered them, or the line managers realised that the person is not right.
“That’s how we intervene with people, because everybody comes into this organisation with their own experience of trauma and actually it may not be until years later that something triggers it.”
The Trauma Risk Management scheme was devised after a study complied by Kings College in London several years ago. As a result many forces within the UK have taken up this scheme.
After a traumatic incident, it needs to be considered whether the officer/staff has had an adverse effect, such as not sleeping or getting flashbacks. Within a period of 72 hours a practitioner will meet with the person if agreed, as it is voluntary, so that a TRiM assessment can be carried out to make sure they are okay.
They check that the person’s daily life isn’t being affected, including by not sleeping, having flashbacks, if they are drinking or over exercising, if they don’t have a support network, and then referred onto different services such as chaplaincy and counselling if required.
There are then follow-up meetings, including around a month later. This is to check that all the feelings or thoughts that the person had have subsided, and that they are back to living their daily life as they usually would.
The TRiM team at Lincolnshire Police currently has 21 practitioners which will be expanding to 30 at the end of the year. This is made up of a mixture of all ranks, roles and levels of services, with all having experience of traumatic incidents.
Over the last two years over 1,000 TRiM assessments have been offered by Lincolnshire Police, with an uptake of around 110 accepting it.
Officers and staff can be referred by concerned line managers and colleagues, or refer themselves. Rachael believes that officers and staff do cope well with incidents, but that it is about acknowledging that it can be a lot to deal with and remembering that they are human too.
Dawn Cowling is a PCSO with Lincolnshire Police based in Caistor and also involved with TRiM.
She said: “Most members of staff within Lincolnshire Police have been or had dealings with some sort of traumatic incident.
“I previously worked for West Midlands Ambulance Service and Staffordshire Police, so in my early career I was attending incidents.
“One of those incidents that I had a dealing with (in Staffordshire) involved a two-year-old that had drowned.
“That was quite traumatic to see and be involved in and I had thoughts that prolonged after that event, although I didn’t feel as if my colleagues did.
“There was a lot of bravado at the time in the early 80s amongst officers and I didn’t feel that I could say ‘this is playing on my mind, this is bothering me’.
“So TRiM is about giving people the opportunity, who are feeling like that, to have a coffee and a chat and just talk it through.
“Talking is by far the best way. I fought against it in the beginning, but I have learnt over the years that talking is definitely an advantage.”