SMH: Soaring annual cost of dealing with injured NSW police passes $220 million

NSW Police is bleeding hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation costs and millions more for court cases from former officers damaged not only by their service but by the culture of the organisation.

The number of police suffering mental health issues, going off work and onto workers’ compensation has risen 50 per cent in the five years to 2019-20. NSW Police made 3369 workers’ compensation claims last year and more than one in five of those was for mental health reasons.

Once an officer is injured they may be seen as a liability and some commanders then try to push the injured officer out rather than help them recover and come back to work, the NSW Police Association said.

“More officers with capacity to work are being medically discharged against their will,” the association said.Advertisement

“It’s unacceptable to fail to find work for highly trained police officers with a capacity to work,” the association said. “Commanders may perceive it as detrimental to their interests to accommodate injury (or be) committed to facilitating the placement of injured officers if their own performance indicators make this a risky task.”

The risk is due to the fact that police on workers’ compensation are not replaced, which can affect the command’s crime statistics.

The workers’ compensation bill for NSW Police hit $218.5 million in 2018-19, up 24 per cent on 2017-18.

On Wednesday, the Herald revealed serving and former police officers from commands in Sydney and across NSW claim there is a culture of bullying, racism and targeted discrimination by dysfunctional management.

Retired Inspector Wayne McLachlan, who served for 24 years, said when he went onto workers’ comp for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) he was “completely neglected” except to be interviewed for 18 separate complaints including not notifying police that he had changed his address and for helping a colleague at a police station.

He was cleared of wrongdoing in all those complaints.

“There were no welfare checks apart from coming to see if they could charge me with something else,” Mr McLachlan said. “At times I felt like they were trying to push me to get me charged or to kill myself.”

Nearly every police case that Erin Sellars, a consultant lawyer with Don Cameron and Associates, sees has “a bullying or toxic culture component”. And she sees hundreds each year.

“In the past 12 weeks I have had about 220 police come to me for workers’ compensation claims for mental injury,” Ms Sellars said.

“Whenever police try and speak up against bullying behaviour the bully appears to be untouchable and then they’re ostracised and they’re not part of that group and then it drives them out of the police force.”

These bullying characters, who Ms Sellars sees regularly in her cases, are not being dealt with by the NSW police.

“They just seem to allow them to stay in or they promote them or move them somewhere else and they don’t address their behaviour at all,” she said.

“In recent cases, I’ve seen police use bullying complaints to help them gain promotions by telling inspectors that they have managed this person.”

Ex-Detective Sergeant Terry Flanders served from 1976 until 1999. His son Leigh went into the force in 2010.

Leigh developed PTSD after attending a suicide in Ashfield and transferred to Albury so he didn’t have to drive past the units where the incident occurred.

“He faced difficult times in Albury, including issues with police managers and his condition worsened before he went on sick leave for almost five years,” Mr Flanders said.

“Leigh’s psychiatrists and doctors didn’t want him going back to work at Albury because it was such a toxic environment. They didn’t say he couldn’t work anywhere else.”

During those five years, Leigh’s father never saw a return to work plan for him and he was medically discharged in 2019 despite being willing to work.

Return to work strategies such as redesigning positions to be more flexible and offering police who have reached “maximum medical improvement” (after injury) to commands in addition to their authorised number of officers may help, the NSW Police Association said.

NSW Police say they are committed to supporting the mental health of all employees through their Mental Wellbeing Strategy 2020-25 which is “building a whole of organisation approach” to mental wellbeing.

“[The strategy] marks mental health and wellbeing as a strategic priority and part of our wider commitment to improving the health and safety of all employees,” a NSW Police spokeswoman said.

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