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Protecting the protectors: An inside look into the service supporting the frontline of Dyfed-Powys Police

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POLICE officers give their all to protect their communities – running towards danger as others run away, supporting victims and families in their darkest hours, and seeing unimaginable scenes.

But who is there for the protectors when they need back-up?

As part of Mental Health Awareness Week, Dyfed-Powys Police is sharing an insight into a previously unseen side of the force – the work the counselling service carries out in guiding officers and staff through their own struggles.

From officers painstakingly combing crime scenes for vital evidence, and investigators trawling through thousands of images on digital devices, to colleagues balancing the pressure between work and home life, Counsellor Samantha Davies and a team of 13 others around the force are there to offer guidance and support.

And Samantha explained the service is often most needed when officers least expect it.

“We often see officers who have got 20 or 30 years’ experience and don’t understand why an incident has affected them,” she said.

“Say you have an officer who has dealt with atrocities for 30-plus years, and suddenly they find themselves crying over something small. They think they’ve gone mad.

“Of course they haven’t – it’s the weight of what they’ve dealt with over the course of their career.

“It usually goes that they say they’ve dealt with worse things, they’ve seen worse things, and they don’t understand why this particular incident has bothered them.

“We work closely with them to find the trigger. It might be something in their past that they haven’t dealt with, there might be similarities with this job, or this latest incident is simply the straw that breaks the camel’s back.”

While there are formal mechanisms in place to support officers who have dealt with traumatic incidents – being the first on scene at a murder, a sudden death, or a fatal collision, for example – the need for the counselling team might come from wider impacts of the job.

The challenges of dealing with a long term investigation, months spent in exposed conditions looking for evidence, or long night shifts guarding scenes of crime to ensure evidence isn’t lost can take their toll.

As part of her role, Samantha ensures she is readily available to officers working in difficult conditions – visiting investigation sites regularly to offer support.

“It’s not always the things they’ve seen – it can be problems at home, or the pressure of being away from home for weeks on end,” she said.

“One of the biggest things we see in the counselling room is guilt. We help officers to work through this, and give them the tools to help themselves.

“With the ongoing operation in Carmarthen, before the COVID-19 restrictions were put in place, I was making sure I was on site twice a week, every week, with the force chaplain and our in-house Occupational Health Specialist team so they could see we were there if they needed us,” she said.

“Being on a site day in day out isn’t easy – if we can be there for a chat in the canteen, help clear the plates away, then officers get to know what we can offer, and are more likely to get in touch if they do need support.

“They might not need us during that particular investigation – it might be months or years down the line – but by meeting us at that time, they know we’re here.”

While Samantha sometimes faces reluctance from officers in accepting that they need a counselling session, she is able to strip away layers of bravado from those saving face from their colleagues.

“You do get a bit of banter between some officers – particularly when we carry out specialist unit reviews,” she said. “They’ll be in the waiting room making jokes about it, but when they come in, it changes.

“They might be worried that their line manager has to know they’ve had a session, or that I could take their firearms license away, for example, but that’s not what I’m here for. Once they realise what we’re about – that we’re not candles and whale music – they start to open up about things.

Nearly a year into her position at Dyfed-Powys Police, Samantha is realising a career dream stemming from her childhood, growing up in a policing family.

“My dad was an officer for 30 years,” she said. “When I was young, he used to tell me lots of gory stories, which I loved, and they gave me an insight and understanding into what they face.

“While he told me what he’d seen, he would never tell my mum. She didn’t work for the force, and he didn’t want to burden her with the things he had seen – that’s still true of officers today. They carry the weight of what they have seen and heard on shift, and often have nobody to offload to.

“He fully supported me when I said I wanted to be a counsellor. He was old fashioned, and would say in front of others that people need to pull their socks up, but quietly he would sit with me and say that things had changed since he left the job. They used to go to the pub and talk things through – he knew that didn’t happen anymore, and that people need somewhere to talk.

“I absolutely love my role. When someone says they wouldn’t have got through something without support, it absolutely humbles me. It brings me to tears.”

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Police appeal after man found dead near Kilgetty roundabout

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POLICE in Pembrokeshire are  investigating the sudden death of a man in Kilgetty, Pembrokeshire.

The man, aged in his 60s, is often seen on or near Kilgetty roundabout. Concerns for his welfare were raised this morning (Saturday, Nov 28) and sadly, a body was found near the Kilgetty roundabout a short while later.

Police said: “Anyone with information that could help piece together the circumstances surrounding his death, which is being treated as unexplained, is asked to contact police.

“Though formal identification has not yet taken place, the man’s next of kin has been informed. HM Coroner is also aware.

“Anyone with information that could help officers with their investigation is asked to report it to Dyfed-Powys Police, either online at: bit.ly/DPPContactOnline, by emailing 101@dyfed-powys.pnn.police.uk, or by calling 101. If you are deaf, hard of hearing, or speech impaired text the non-emergency number on 07811 311 908. Quote reference: DP-20201128-076.”

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Garage planning appeal dismissed

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A PLANNING inspector has upheld a Pembrokeshire County Council decision to refuse planning permission for a detached garage.

The Inspector dismissed the appeal by Mr Peter Baker against the Council’s decision to refuse the proposed development at Amroth Road, Ludchurch.

Planning Inspector J P Tudor agreed that the development would cause unacceptable harm on the character and appearance of the area.

The planned garage was to be placed in front of a detached bungalow.

Other properties nearby generally have garages situated to the side or rear or integrated into the main building.

The Inspector said: “Given its size and position, the garage would appear prominent in public views along the highway and be noticeable from neighbouring properties. It would compromise the existing sense of space and openness to the front of most dwellings.

“Therefore, the development would have an adverse effect on the character an appearance of the area.”

The appeal was dismissed.

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New guidelines for hospital visiting during Coronavirus outbreak

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NEW revised NHS Wales hospital visiting guidance during the coronavirus outbreak will be published on Monday 30 November 2020. This supersedes previously published guidance.

The revised guidance sets out the baseline for visiting in Wales during the pandemic, but allows health boards, trusts and hospices to have more flexibility to depart from the guidance.

This flexibility is due to the changing picture of coronavirus transmission across Wales, with significant variations in community transmission across different parts of the country and differences in the rate of nosocomial transmission.

The new guidelines allow health care providers to asses local factors and work with local infection prevention and control teams and Public Health Wales when agreeing visiting arrangements.

Healthcare providers may depart from the guidance in response to:

  • rising levels of covid-19 transmission in their localities, including levels which result in a national lockdown and/or evidence of nosocomial transmission in a particular setting; or
  • falling levels of transmission in their local area.

In addition to allowing for this flexibility the revised guidance has been amended for maternity services after listening to feedback from women and families and consulting with Heads of Midwifery and Sonography/Radiography Services. Visiting in maternity services will now be based on a risk assessment approach by health boards. This will take into consideration local environmental factors such as room sizes, ability to socially distance and infection prevention and control risks in enabling partners to safely accompany pregnant women and new mothers. This risk assessed approach should be taken in collaboration with relevant health professionals, local infection prevention and control teams and Public Health Wales. All women will be supported to have at least one partner with them during active labour, birth and for the period immediately after the birth, except in an extremely limited number of circumstances.

The updated guidelines also recognise that some people may require an essential support assistant for specific additional support eg a support worker or interpreter. Essential support assistants will not to be classed as visitors, in some circumstances, where people receive care and support from a family member or partner, they may nominate this person as their essential support assistant.

Minister for Health and Social Services Vaughan Gething, said: “We recognise that the restrictions on visiting has a huge impact on patients, their families and loves ones. We have announced further changes to the guidelines today to provide health boards, trusts and hospices with flexibility to depart from the guidelines in response to local levels of Covid-19 transmission. It is important to remember that the virus has not gone away and the health, safety and wellbeing of patients, communities and NHS staff remains an absolute priority for both the Welsh Government and health care providers. Tough choices will still need to be made but we hope the revised guidelines will allow more flexibility for health care providers. ”

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