Deep down, all cops know. One day or the other, in their life, they will face a traumatic situation. For example the search for a 12 year old girl. soon Lola was reported missingOn Friday afternoon, October 14, dozens of agents combed through In this corner of the 19th arrondissement of Paris Search for small clues to find his trail. A few hours later, three of them would follow The homeless man who found the body He was tortured by the schoolgirl and locked inside a trunk kept in the courtyard of the building. Faced with horror, professional reflexes, acquired during their training at the police school, take: while waiting for forensic identification, it must protect the scene of the crime, to take identification of witnesses. Then write a report to Juvenile Defense Force investigators.
But no preparation can prevent such intervention from leaving lasting traces. “Over time, you get stronger, you learn to take a step back from things. But when you’re in impressive crime scenes, with the Ile-de-France regional secretary of the Alliance trade union Yvan Assioma is underlined. How can the police forget the images of the victim? Cries of pain from loved ones ? How not to be moved?
During the night, the hierarchy of agents who found Lola’s body called the on-call number of the Operational Psychological Support Service of the National Police (SSPO). It provides police officers with “post-incident support activities,” meaning “follow-up to a mission or critical intervention,” explains its president, clinical psychologist Catherine Pinson. “First, it’s important to identify the workforce mobilized for this event and understand their role,” he continues. The idea was to propose responses that were adapted and individualized according to the situation and where they were. »
The police officers were so shocked by the task that they were able to talk to the psychologist individually. Purpose of the session? “Answer questions about how they behaved, what brought them back to personal matters, their work, their place. » Aspirants can monitor for a while. Others left with instructions to call the psychologist back if needed.
In 2021, the SSPO carried out 2,418 interventions of this type following an incident. About 10,000 police officers were supervised that year by one of the service’s 122 psychologists spread across the country. In one year, requests for personal follow-up increased by 8%. Yuan Asioma observes that there is “no longer a barrier” to going to a psychologist.
“Not just physical and visible injuries”
For a long time, police officers had to “manage on their own” after a complex intervention, recalls the trade unionist. “We had coffee with colleagues and we discussed it among ourselves. If the team leader saw a problem, he referred the officer to a doctor. In 1996, a few months after the wave of attacks that hit France, the SSPO was created to help demobilized police officers overcome their trauma,” police unions have requested. “At that time, the authorities became aware of the fact that there are not only physical and visible injuries. There are also invisible injuries, on a psychological level,” explains Catherine Pinson.
Road accidents, assaults, corpses, suicides, assaults… After a very traumatic event, some police officers and guards may develop post-traumatic stress disorder. “A psychopathological entity that occurs when a person faces, directly or indirectly, an event that can seriously damage his physical or psychological integrity”, understands Mickaël Morlet-Rivelly, a forensic expert in court psychology. appel de Reims and PhD student in psychology at the University of Caen-Normandie and at the International Center for Comparative Criminology in Montreal. These disorders result in the appearance of symptoms such as “hypervigilance, flashbacks, recurring smells or images, sleep disorders, eating behavior,” he continues.
Six Long “Mental Wounds”
Mickaël Morlet-Rivelli underlines that there are now “scientifically validated psychological therapies for trauma” such as “cognitive or behavioral therapies”.
For their part, the gendarmes also have measures to support soldiers who have faced a traumatic event. “First, the awareness step goes on site. They communicate with their staff as much as possible and as necessary to provide a form of psychological first aid. This is part of the values of the Gendarmerie that we capitalize on,” explains Col. Gwendal Durand, deputy director of personnel support in the General Administration. Gendarmerie National. 85 psychologists, spread across the country, then take over and give the sexes who want personal interviews.
These health professionals “decide the period of support or the treatment they are going to put in with the gendarme,” the official continues. The latter concludes: “Physical injury, whatever its consequences, is very quickly repaired. It takes a long time to heal, it’s a heavy, emotional wound. »