How countries with good public security treat the mental health of their police officers

Every three or four days between 2020 and 2021, a military police officer took his own life in Brazil. According to data from the 16 th Brazilian Public Security Forum (FBSP), the number of suicides among police officers increased by about 55% in this period, resulting in a higher number than the number of police officers killed in confrontation.

On the left and On the right, the worrying scenario experienced by public security agents in the country raises the debate about the working conditions to which these professionals are subjected, as well as their access to mental health care programs: last week, federal deputy David Miranda (PSOL-RJ) surprised by proposing a bill that includes in the National Policy for the Prevention of Self-Mutilation and Suicide the provision of policies and actions aimed at public security agents, including civil police officers, socio-educational agents and municipal guards.

It happens that the very nature of police activity requires that the psychological conditions of these professionals be treated as priority from recruitment. “Police mental health care protocols need to happen at several levels, the first of which is selection. In several countries around the world, the process is designed to identify behavioral problems, lack of self-control and harmful habits such as alcohol and drug consumption – which does not happen in Brazil”, explains Leandro Piquet, coordinator of the Multidimensional Security School (IRI). /USP).

“We can cite, as an example, the case of Honduras, which, with the support of the United States and the Organization of American States (OAS), underwent a process of depuration and reorganization of the police which was very successful. They ended the intellectual requirements for the selection of agents and established psychological aptitude requirements, through the application of parameterized tests that identify traits such as integrity, courage and respect for hierarchy. It seems like a punctual thing, but that’s how you eliminate from the start the guy who is intelligent, smart, but uncontrolled, insubordinate or corrupt”, explains the specialist.

Anthropologist Paulo Storani , former instructor of BOPE (Special Operations Battalion) in Rio de Janeiro and consultant for the movie ‘Elite Squad’, says that the Brazilian police needed to relax the psychological profile, due to constant lawsuits. “Any personality trait or characteristic that you can determine by psychological projective tests and in which someone is contraindicated in the selection process to be a military police officer, appeals to the Public Ministry and usually wins. This ends up almost preventing the police from establishing a psychological profile, a part of this universe that is very difficult, because society in general is not prepared to face environmental circumstances of great stress”, he criticizes.

The next step in a good selection is the provision of training consistent with the socio-emotional skills that you want to foster in the police forces, in addition to the continuous repetition of tests and the creation of support systems for police officers subjected to stressful situations. . “In São Paulo, between the decades of 1990 and 101, there was a program that provided that whenever a police officer fired a gun, he was obliged to report to the psychological monitoring service and stay off the street for a while. They didn’t like it, but it was an important way to monitor and control stress, it helped the guy ‘slow down’. The stress of confrontation is very great and, little by little, it ‘deactivates’ the triggers of self-control. The guy who just climbed the hill, exchanged shots, needs to stop, have his blood pressure measured, have a conversation”, reinforces Piquet.

In this sense, Storani considers that the measurement of removing police officers after traumatic situations proved to be unfeasible over time. “What happened is that you had almost an entire battalion taken out of service for therapy, and the battalions were unable to meet the demand. Police numbers today are far below the demand for police services, so you end up overloading this police officer”, he says.

Faced with a scenario quite different from the European one, the anthropologist defends as a way out invest in stress tolerance training, such as the criticized special operations courses. “I would practically need a battalion of psychologists to meet the demand of the Military Police. Who is prepared for a permanent war situation like in Rio de Janeiro? There is no way to slow down processes when violence increases. Training doesn’t get any better than submitting the trainee to stressful situations, because the body has the capacity to develop tolerance, and those who don’t, ask to leave. It is voluntary training. So, it is necessary to create a margin of police profile that can be selected and that can be prepared to face reality”, he says.

Author of the book “Modelos de Polícia”, the Lieutenant Colonel Sérgio Carrera de Albuquerque Melo Neto, from the Federal District Military Police, worked for four and a half years at the UN and began to observe the police around the world, where the comparative study came from, as a hobby. of the five most stressful in the world, and today there are still a number of factors that contribute to this, such as anxiety, stress, burnout, personal issues. In Brazil, each state has its autonomy to structure the curriculum for training and the legislation of institutions police. Some police have psychiatrists, psychologists, but the number is small. There are also agreements with clinics. In some states, there are ordinances that say that the police officer must be removed , for his sake, some give good support to the staff, while others do not have support due to the budgetary issue. It is a cycle in which it is often impossible to provide the ideal”, he explains.

International experiences

One of the highlights in support of the police, according to Lieutenant Colonel Carrera, is Canada. “Just taking the gun out of the holster, he’s already on leave, if there’s a shot, he’ll go through therapy sessions and, when he’s ok, he’ll do shooting training again to see if he’s fit”, he explains. In countries such as Norway and Sweden, the carrying of weapons by the police is not part of the culture (obviously unfeasible in the current Brazilian situation), being restricted only to special operations police officers. “In all these countries, there is also support for the police officer’s family in traumatic situations.”

In England, the Code of Practice on Armed Policing and Police Use of Less-Lethal Weapons , published in 2020, states that “The British model of ‘policing by consent’ is based on the principle that police power comes from the common consent of the public, as opposed to to the power of the state. The police service in England and Wales has long been unarmed. The use of firearms by the police should always be a last resort, considered only when there is a serious risk to public or police safety. However, when an operational need arises, authorized weapons officers must be available for deployment.”

Therefore, “firearms and specialized ammunition must be issued only to officers assessed as competent to use them in accordance with training and assessment procedures,” the document reads. In addition, there are also officers trained specifically for tactical advice on weapons use and others to command incidents. The latter, in the event of deaths or serious injuries, are responsible for ensuring the physical and emotional well-being of the employees involved, considering the presence of doctors and health counselors and ensuring the contact of officers with the family.

When a British police officer kills or seriously injures someone by gunshot, the first procedure is an interview by a post-incident manager and then the officer is referred to long-term wellness support. In these situations, the European Convention on Human Rights requires the State to carry out an official investigation to check whether the force used was justified, ensuring the accountability of those involved in the event of abuse.

Operational protocols also include long-term agreements for the well-being of the officers involved and their families when necessary, in addition to the return of officers, if appropriate, to operational functions.

United States

To join the United States police forces, for example, all candidates undergo psychological tests that consider their history of drug use and the ability to control impulses and manage stress reliability, integrity and courage, as well as the ability to work under supervision.

In addition, in January of 2018, the Law on Mental Health and Welfare of Police Forces was enacted, recognizing that institutions charged with guarding law enforcement need ongoing support to ensure the mental health and well-being of their employees. “Good mental and psychological health is as essential as good physical health for police officers to be effective in keeping our country and our communities safe from crime and violence,” describes the report by Community Oriented Policing Services [N/E: trata-se da sigla que deu origem à expressão “cops”, referente a guardas municipais, xerifes e outros cargos policiais no país], linked to the United States Department of Justice (DOJ).

The act requires the DOJ to report to Congress on mental health practices and services offered by the Department of Defense Affairs and Veterans that can be adopted by federal, state or local agencies to promote the psychological preparedness of police officers.

The latest report available on the portal presents a case study of the experience of the Department of Dallas Police (DPD), the 9th largest in the country. After the July 7 2016 attack by a reserve police officer at the end of a Black Lives Matter protest, which resulted in the death of five police officers and two civilians, in addition to nine police officers injured, there was a great mobilization for law enforcement officers to have more access to mental health programs.

The DPD then partnered with the Health Center of the University of Texas Brain, considered an important leader in the development of mental health programs. In 2018, a study with 101 participants who underwent training developed by the university showed a significant reduction in reports of intrusive thoughts, stress and excessive alcohol consumption.


With restrictive laws to the private use of weapons, police shootings are uncommon occurrences in Germany, as suspects are less likely to carry firearms. Police legislation has its own regulations in each of the 16 states of the country, most of which have restrictive rules similar to the use of police. weapons, with permission to fire only when all measures have been exhausted – which includes preemptive shooting at an object to alert the suspect.

Training for German police lasts approx. three years and, in addition to the traditional marksmanship classes, it includes training on stressful situations and role-playing exercises, which lead the recruit to learn to calmly control events, through dialogue, and not to act immediately. The idea is for the officer to evoke this pattern in a future emergency. “If poor peripheral vision sets in when we are in a stressful situation, we turn to tried and tested tactics, everyone does it,” explains Gerd Enkling, chief of police in the state of Bavaria.

“Don’t shoot” even names police weapons training in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state. In addition to training to decide when the use of the weapon is necessary, the German police officer receives help to process the post-event. In most states, there are mental health services 24 hours a day and the professional needs to undergo counseling after firing the gun, even if there are no deaths or injuries. The procedure immediately after an occurrence is to send a trained team, composed of experienced police officers, psychologists and counselors (Catholic and Evangelical) to assist the police.

Although it is known as a of the police who shoot the least in the world, the number of shootings against suspects has grown in Germany in recent years. Police data collected by the tabloid Bild show 24 killed after being shot by the police, in 2019, almost double the number recorded five years earlier.

Estimated It is known that three quarters of those killed by the police in recent years were mentally ill, which would require an update in psychological training for older police officers. “Many police officers are not aware that they are dealing with the mentally ill,” says Thomas Feltes, a criminologist at Ruhr University Bochum. “We need them to be trained more solidly.”

According to the German news website Tagesschau, all states reported having units to deal with mental illness in the police training plan. , but admitted that there is no mandatory additional training for officers who are already on active duty.

Clinical psychologist Birgitta Sticher, who has been training police officers for more than two decades, says that the range of psychological services in the police has improved significantly in recent years, but reinforces that the process needs to be continuous. “As a therapist I have to prove every year that I am continuing my education – this would also be important for inspectors who are exposed to such mental stress. Especially in the area of ​​homicide or abuse investigations, we need a significantly greater proportion of supervision and lifelong learning. You can’t completely cover everything in training – not even preparing for the mental stress that this job entails.”

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