AFP's "devastating" culture of bullying exposed
A SHOCKING number of current and former members of the Australian Federal Police have claimed a culture of bullying and inadequate support inside the organisation has caused them to contemplate or attempt suicide.
Twenty-two current and former AFP agents and officers, including some from the secret service, reached out to news.com.au this week on the condition of anonymity, alleging the organisation's failings have pushed them to the brink of death.
It is understood the AFP employs about three psychologists, one chaplain and two welfare officers, all based in Canberra, to serve 3481 sworn members nationwide.
The members passed intensive physical and psychological examinations to be sworn into the AFP but many of them are now broken.
"We are the ones on the frontline protecting everyone else but no one is protecting us," a federal agent told news.com.au.
Several agents, past and present, revealed they had come close to taking their own lives.
NATIONAL 24/7 CRISIS SERVICES
"I stood on the top of a 30-storey building last night and the only reason I didn't jump was because I thought I might survive," a former AFP agent said this morning.
"I often fantasised about ending my life with my service firearm," another former AFP officer said.
"I thought I was strong yet over the past two years I have seriously considered suicide several times," an active AFP agent said.
Another officer told news.com.au he had "considered and prepared to end (his) life" until finding professional support independently.
One former AFP officer said he had attempted suicide before recently leaving the service and moving overseas.
The whistleblowers, whose identities were verified, have worked in "difficult areas" including counterterrorism, drug and human trafficking, and child pornography investigations.
They said exposure to "unthinkable things" had led them to develop a range of mental health issues including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts.
According to them, their conditions have been fuelled by bullying from inside the organisation and no regular face-to-face access to psychologists or welfare officers outside national headquarters in the ACT. One secret service agent said he has even less people to turn to for help because he, and others in his position, are bound by secrecy.
Some AFP agents claimed they were forced into long legal battles with Comcare as many of their claims for mental health-related workplace injuries were drawn out for years or rejected. News.com.au has contacted Comcare for comment.
The revelations come after news.com.au reported on Tuesday that a whistleblower from within the AFP alleged several Victorian members have died in the past year and others are at high risk of suicide because of limited access to support services.
A female AFP officer was killed by a "non-accidental", self-inflicted gunshot inside the AFP Melbourne headquarters around 5.45pm on Monday. She was transported to hospital but later died.
CALLS FOR WELFARE OFFICERS TO BE REINSTATED
Australian Federal Police Association national president Angela Smith said "member welfare is one of the AFPA's major concerns".
"Over the past 12 months I have been calling for welfare officers to be reinstated to our regional offices around Australia," Ms Smith said.
"When I met with our members across Australia early last year, this was the one clear and consistent request members asked us to take back to the AFP."
Welfare officers are senior constables or sergeants who advocate on behalf of AFP agents.
"It's a very particular world that not just anyone can understand," Ms Smith said.
"That's why we need active welfare officers in the workplace.
"There are federal agents not only in Canberra but also in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Hobart, Adelaide, Perth and Darwin.
"We also have AFP Protective Service Officers in Geraldton and Alice Springs."
A statement from the AFP to news.com.au said: "Professional support is available to all AFP staff in every state and territory, and we surge and deploy domestically and internationally wherever and whenever required, just as we have done this week in Melbourne."
According to the AFP, the organisation provides access to in-house psychologists, social workers, specialist nurses and family liaison officers who "provide real-time support face-to-face, via phone and also via email". It also "deploys specifically trained professionals to provide support, informal and formal debriefs and psycho-education to any members who are affected" following critical incidents.
One of the AFP officers who this week contacted news.com.au described "the whole system (as) flawed".
"I've been in countless critical incidents with nothing offered nor any follow up," one former agent said.
Another said: "I did forensic body recovery searches in (major) fires aftermath. Yet nothing (was offered to me for support). I was told to take a AFP vehicle back to ACT and 'thanks for coming'."
Members have access to an external 24-hour Employee Assistance Program over the phone but many agents told news.com.au they "got a different person" and had to retell their stories from start to finish every time they called.
"One moment I'm thinking I could be Prime Minister of Australia and the next I'm curled up in a corner sucking my thumb," one federal agent suffering chronic PTSD told news.com.au.
"Ringing a number and telling the same story I told yesterday doesn't help ... I need someone who knows what I'm going through.
"When we swear allegiance to the queen and country and to uphold the values, you accept things can happen.
"But you believe if you fall off the perch that the organisation will look after you.
"When that doesn't happen you are absolutely, morally wounded."
'SERIOUS BULLIES IN THE ORGANISATION'
Another AFP federal agent, who served in Australia and on international deployment as a peace keeper, said he had been "the victim of workplace bullying that is the culture of the AFP".
"The pressure associated with it has caused many a fine officer to be pushed to the point of suicide, chronic PTSD and other mental health conditions," he said.
One AFP officer told news.com.au her federal agent husband suffered work-related PTSD after he witnessed and reported a colleague assaulting members of the public. She said he was told by superiors: "If you don't withdraw your complaints no Officer in Charge will employ you."
"The financial and emotional toll for us is devastating," she said.
"My husband has a distinguished service history with the AFP including a bravery award and service medals. He has served overseas on several missions. This means nothing to the AFP and they have offered no support to a loyal member with PTSD they have literally washed their hands of him."
Several AFP officers told news.com.au their problems were made worse after they sought help for mental health issues and bullying internally.
"There are some serious bullies in the organisation and they know it," one AFP officer said.
"The agency does not know how to differentiate between bullies and vexatious complaints of bullying.
"Some good people are being destroyed from within and the incompetent lazy people are surviving. It's a mess."
Another said he was "stood down" after he asked for mediation to resolve an issue with a sergeant.
"I was refused, I was stood down and isolated," he said.
"My teammates were told not to contact me because I was under investigation.
"I didn't know why I was being isolated nor did I know I was under investigation as they operate in the shadows, building a case against you before striking."
A spokesperson for the AFP said "therehas been the establishment of 'Safe Place' which provides holistic support to all AFP members who have experienced or are aware of instances of sexual harassment, serious bullying or harassment connected to the workplace".
Former sex discrimination commissioner Elizabeth Broderick completed a six-month independent review into harassment and bullying within the AFP, in August last year.
Ms Broderick interviewed more than 100 members and found 62 per cent of men and 66 per cent of women reported they were bullied in the workplace in the past five years.
She concluded the extent of harassment and bullying warranted an urgent need for action.
An AFP spokesperson told news.com.au the organisation was still in the process of implementing all of the recommendations.
If you or someone you know needs help, phone Lifeline on 13 11 14 or the 24-hour Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467.
If you have information on issues within the AFP please contact firstname.lastname@example.org