The death of a detective sergeant in Sydney’s northwest exposes a sad reality gripping some of the police force’s most vulnerable victims.
On Monday, the body of a 46-year-old Detective Sergeant was found at Ermington Police Station at around 12.30pm.
It’s understood he was on-duty at the time. Authorities are not investigating his death as suspicious and support services have been offered to his colleagues, and other staff and officers at the station.
A critical incident has since been declared, as is standard procedure after the death of an officer. The investigation will be reviewed by the Professional Standards Command and independently oversighted by the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission (LECC), a statement from NSW Police said.
A report is also currently being prepared for the Coroner.
The death comes two years after the suicide of Sergeant Matthew Theoklis in November 2020. The father-of-two took his own life at the Sydney Police Centre building in Surry Hills.
He had joined the NSW Police in 2005 and was promoted to the rank of sergeant in December 2019.
Mr Theoklis was survived by his two twin daughters, Brooke and Sophie, as well as his fiancee Rebekah, who was also a member of the NSW Police Force.
At the time Police Legacy chairperson Detective Superintendent Gary Merryweather said the pandemic and recurring natural disasters had added extra pressures to the job.
“It can become very taxing emotionally and physically being a police officer and this year has been particularly hard,” he told 2GB’s Drive host Jim Wilson.
“As we know policing can be so difficult. You can go from tragedy to a job where you’ve helped someone and feel very satisfying.
“In circumstances where it’s not foreseen by anyone, it just makes it a little bit harder, and I’m sure the family just think it’s all very surreal at the moment.
“There’s just no other way to explain it.”
According to an ABC report from January 2019, four Australian Federal Police officers died by suicide at their workplace between 2017 to 2019.
The deaths prompted the introduction of stricter firearm rules, which required officers to provide sufficient reason before drawing their weapons.
At the time, AFP Commissioner Andrew Colvin described the organisation’s former measures of addressing mental health as a “culture issue” within the force. However, he hoped that “through tragedy comes opportunities for us to learn,” adding that he hoped officers would feel better equipped to talk about and share their experiences.
“The old adage that police run towards the problem when everyone else runs away, that’s in our DNA, that’s what we do,” he said.
“So the idea that we should stop and take a break because we’re tired, because we’re fatigued, because we’re having trouble, is so foreign to police.”
In 2004, high-profile officer Steve Leach, 51, took his own life in a soundproof weapons storage room at Parramatta police station. As reported by The Sydney Morning Herald, he was on sick leave when he entered the building and was discovered by another officer.
Detective Senior Sergeant Leach was celebrated as the prominent homicide detective who arrested serial killer Ivan Milat in 1994. He was also involved in the investigation into the 1986 disappearance of Bondi schoolgirl Samantha Knight.
Prior to his death, he had applied for his pension after he was hurt on duty while seconded to the European War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague.
According to his colleagues, his death was not expected, The Age reports.
The then NSW Police Commissioner Ken Moroney described his death as a “terrible tragedy”.
“Detective Sergeant Leach was a highly respected officer with 35 years experience and had been involved in some of the state’s most high-profile homicide investigations,” he said.
More than a decade onwards, the suicide of former police officer Ashley Bryant triggered a coronial inquest in 2017 which found that a post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and alcoholism brought on by the extreme stresses of his work were key factors in his death.
In December 2013, the 44-year-old drove to a national park in the Byron Bay hinterlands where he ultimately died. Prior to his death, the father-of-three had made a triple-zero call where told the operator that he was “about to take my own life”.
“I suffer post traumatic stress disorder … I can no longer live with the pain. I want this to go to the coroner,” he said in the record call that was played a this inquest,” he said.
“There needs to be more done, more things put in place for what happens.”
His death came a year after he was discharged from the police on medical grounds. Attempts to apply for a ‘hurt on duty pension’ also forced Mr Bryant to relive his traumas, before he was denied a full pension.
This was after two psychiatrists under the Police Superannuation Scheme determined that he could still work again, if he retrained for less stressful work, The Daily Telegraph reported.
During the inquest, his widow Deborah Bryant said the pressure of trying to apply for the pension exacerbated his PTSD, that led him to drink.
“It was the pressure of all the assessments that he had to undergo that made it too stressful for him that, unfortunately, led him back to alcohol. He never recovered from it,” she told reporters.
Startling research from Beyond Blue in 2018 also found that a first responder dies by suicide every six weeks. The mental health and wellbeing support organisation found that police and emergency services workers are more than twice as likely to experience high or very high rates of psychological distress compared to the general population.
Those who had spent more than 10 years in their jobs were also more than twice as likely to experience psychological distress and were six times more likely to experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).