SAPOL 801 Group

The Hon. J.S.L. DAWKINS: In recent months I have become aware of the efforts and activities of members of the 801 Group, which incorporates serving and retired police personnel who are concerned about the health and wellbeing of colleagues. Members in this place may be aware that the SAPOL call sign for 'police in trouble' or 'police need urgent assistance' is 801. 

As well as regular meetings in the northern and southern suburbs, the focus of the group has been the development of a Facebook page. The support provided by this group for SAPOL personnel suffering from psychological injuries has been highly valued. Early this month, the Facebook page membership reached 250 for the first time. However, soon after this milestone, news came through of the tragic suicide of a SAPOL officer on Eyre Peninsula. Within four hours over 1,000 new members joined the Facebook group, and within days the membership had grown to over 2,900. The membership is estimated by the voluntary administrators to be 80 to 90 per cent serving, retired or ex-police, and many more would be from the families of police officers. 

The extraordinary response to the work of the group demonstrates a strong commitment to one of the founding principles and ongoing aims of the 801 Group 'to stop one of our mates from suiciding'. The existence of 801 has been acknowledged by both SAPOL and the Police Association of South Australia. However, there is a great opportunity for all in the police sector to benefit from the work of this voluntary group. My questions to the minister are: 

1.Is the minister aware of the 801 Group? 

2.Will the minister meet with the administrators of 801, all of whom are volunteers, to explore ways to assist in the provision of 'a safe place to go and chat with your mates'? 

3.Will the minister examine further ways in which the concerns of nearly 3,000 members of the police community can be harnessed to prevent more suicides within police ranks and across the broader community? 

The Hon. P. MALINAUSKAS (Minister for Police, Minister for Correctional Services, Minister for Emergency Services, Minister for Road Safety) ( 15:05 ): I thank the honourable member for his question and acknowledge his ongoing commitment and work in a number of community sectors regarding mental health issues. Before going into a bit of detail I want to take the opportunity in this place to acknowledge the passing of the individual police officer concerned and pass on my condolences to his family. 

Mental health and wellbeing for our men and women serving in uniform is something that I think all South Australians should be reasonably concerned about. Naturally, it will not come as a surprise to the honourable member that I have already been in active discussions with both the police commissioner and the Police Association of South Australia regarding this particular issue, not specifically just because of the more recent tragic suicide but as a general issue regarding the mental health and wellbeing of our men and women in uniform. It is an issue that has received some coverage and some scrutiny in recent years, and I think that is really consistent with the genuine concern that a number of people within the community have. 

Regarding one of the Hon. Mr Dawkins' specific questions, yes, I am aware of the 801 Group. Of course, any group that is advocating for the concerns and needs of the police is a group that I'm willing to meet with should they seek to do so. However, as I have said, I have already had active discussions with both the Police Association of South Australia and SAPOL itself regarding what is currently being done in this area to seek to prevent such instances occurring or to minimise the risk. 

It is important to note that SAPOL and the government have already been proactive in this particular area in ensuring that there is a range of services in place for active sworn serving police officers and, indeed, their families, to ensure that we are serving their needs regarding their mental health and wellbeing in a way that reflects the particular challenges that police officers face on a day‑to-day basis and the difficulty of their work in the service of the community. 

SAPOL already has in place a proactive employee assistance program. The employee assistance program reflects itself in a contract with a separate organisation that operates separately to SAPOL to provide free services, up to six times, for a police officer to be able to call 24 hours a day, seven days a week to seek assistance in the area of mental health and wellbeing generally. There is an employee assistance section in the South Australian police force that has within it a number of resources with training specifically in dealing with officers who may be in need. There are four psychologists, three social workers and three nurses in-house to provide assistance to employees. 

The employee assistance program entitles each SAPOL employee—as I said, just to be clear—to six free sessions every two years, and those sessions can also be accessed by family members. The employee assistance section provides an initial triage and counselling service for employees as well as a consultancy training and assessment service to assist employees' physical and psychological wellbeing. 

Also in the South Australian Police Enterprise Agreement 2016, SAPOL agreed to develop a number of strategies in consultation with the Police Association of South Australia to promote the prevention of physical and psychological injuries to police. This is something that SAPOL takes seriously. Only today, immediately prior to question time, I was fortunate enough to be in attendance at another police graduation. I say another because there have been a lot lately, because we are, of course, increasing substantially the size of the South Australian police force. 

The Hon. R.L. Brokenshire interjecting: 

The Hon. P. MALINAUSKAS: I can't resist responding to commissioner—sorry, former minister—Brokenshire's intervention. Of course, we are committed to delivering 313 extra police officers, which is why we have seen a number of graduations taking place recently. I am sure that if the honourable member wants to come along to some of those graduations I can facilitate that for him. 

At today's graduation, where there were approximately 25 graduating police officers, the address given by Assistant Commissioner Fahy to all those new recruits, many of them young, made it very clear that SAPOL actively encourages all police officers to speak freely, candidly and safely to SAPOL about any concerns they are experiencing within their workplace, trying to break down any stigma that might be attached to speaking up when it comes to individuals' mental wellbeing. Even at a graduation, that message is being sought to be sent through all police officers. 

This is a complex area, and the nature of the work of being a police officer means that they are faced with challenges on a daily basis that few other members of the community have to deal with in their workplace. We owe it to our police officers, our men and women in uniform, to do everything we can to mitigate the risk. There is always going to be room for improvement, which is why, as I have stated, I have recently been in discussions with the Police Association and SAPOL about how that may look. There are already a number of services in place, and of course we would actively encourage any member of the policing community to take those services up if the need arises.