One thing that really irritates me is flapping. Ultimately all it does is distract the person flapping, as well as those around them from dealing with and completing the task at hand. That could be a file that needs upgrading, a member of the public complaining about a Police officer who looked at them the wrong way or a 3 car pile up with severe trauma casualties. Flapping is usually a sign of a confidence issue that is a result of a lack of knowledge or experience, perceived or actual. Flapping also leads to stress which is never a good thing, especially if you don’t know how to deal with it, and to be honest most people don’t because the job doesn’t care until the stressee loses the plot through no fault of their own and they are then obliged to care and deal with it.
Breakdown is usually as a result of some unresolved post traumatic stress, but it can be a build up of unchecked pressure through workload or bad management. We hear every now and then about someone who has gone off on long term stress leave and upon searching is found with file upon file stuffed in lockers, wardrobes and attics. Not good.
I know a few people who I would consider to be consummate and routine flappers, although most people have a flap every now and then which is understandable, if somewhat irritating at the time. I believe my last flap was dealing with an unexploded calor gas bottle that once LFB (London Fire Brigade) cooled down sufficiently was cleared away and disposed of, the scene was closed down and the roads re-opened. The fact that my voice went up a couple of octaves while dealing with it told everyone that I was starting to get too caught up and back at the nick I deservedly had the piss taken over the obligatory tea and biscuits. Virtually everyone on my team has at one point or another done that and the jokes come out every now and then, they serve as a very good reminder to keep calm, composed and to focus, but more importantly – don’t flap.
When you flap you can lose objectivity and concentration, under most normal circumstances (ie in an office environment) the most that will happen is people avoid you and you might miss a deadline or two, these could have business impact consequences but you can be certain no one is going to wake up dead. In our job you might miss a blade or drugs on searching, or not put the right info out over the radio leading to complications in investigation, or possibly insufficient info to the paramedics leading to a lower grading for response which can put lives on the line. Flapping can also occur if you get too involved in a situation and take all the related stress of that incident upon yourself, if you’re the kind of person that does that then you will burn out in no time at all. It’s a very horrible lesson that every one of us has had to learn at some point but at the end day no one has shoulders big enough to take the world’s problems home with them, so don't try. You will fail, and it'll hurt.
There are a number of ways that I have found to tackle flapping and worrying, the most effective being to compartmentalise the situations I deal with. They all go into the great big box labelled ‘work’ in my brain and at the end of every shift I tape the box up and shove it in the corner over the short trundle to the station to go home. This doesn’t always work and every now and then something particularly nasty will creep out and play around, but dealing with situations that we do this is going to happen. I’m not hiding the problems away either, because I know that the box is there, and when I’m at work I deal with the contents of the work box.
If you can accept that thoughts and feelings will haunt you for a bit then you can deal with it. Problems occur when you tell yourself and everyone else that you’re ok but deep down something nasty is bugging you, whether that is fear of consequences, guilt for not doing everything you could or you’re just pissed off that the situation arose and there was nothing you could do about it.
Another way is acceptance. My personal motto is ‘shit happens’ and as soon as you realise and accept that there are many things outside your area of control that will directly affect you then you can deal with the consequences and move on. If you get too hung up on something that happens during an incident then you could get distracted, if you are dealing with a casualty then you might miss a secondary injury, if you are dealing with an uncuffed prisoner the little git might try and do one. All you can do is deal with it, you can’t go back in time and stop it from happening so there is no point in worrying about it.
Situational debriefs are a good way of coming to terms with what happened, they can also help you to understand why a certain scenario occurred that you had no idea about at the time, it will also help clear up the uncertainty the causes flapping in the first place. We actually do a lot of this already, albeit unintentionally, when we sit down to write up arrest or incident notes. I’ve lost count of the times either I or someone else have said “ah that makes sense, so that’s why what’s his face did that and you appeared out of no where” The Police have been slated in the press for sitting down and writing notes together (most recently around the De Menezes incident) but there are reasons for it, both evidentially and mentally.
Properly organised debriefs should include everyone involved in the incident, from the radio operators, police officers and paramedics to line managers and senior officers if possible. Invariably though it’s only really possible to have the officers at the scene and maybe a random Chief Inspector who was just asked to turn up, due to the hassle in getting radio operators or the other services.
The aim is to help everyone involved come to terms with the incident and to fill in gaps in memory which can lead to doubt. We do these every now and then at the end of a shift or at the beginning of the next one if something particularly big went on or an incident went pear-shaped and there is a lot of ill feeling about it. They invariably start up as a slagging off session but ultimately people have feelings to vent and questions to ask and it is important that these come forward. If you can't vent then feelings can grow into big horrible stinking monsters that eat away at them leading to more potential flapping or worry at the next job. Once you’ve got past the inevitable bitching session you can actually be constructive, as long as whoever is leading the debrief understands that this is going to happen and lets it take its natural path.
Another important issue is that no one should take rank into the room. Everyone should be able to discuss anything relating to that incident, whether that was a Sgt or Inspector who everyone believes made a bad call or if there was something procedural which inhibited a certain action.
Everyone is going to respect someone who can stand up and admit that they made a mistake or bad call (especially if they have rank) and it helps no one to hear the words “well that’s because I’m the Inspector and I don’t have to explain myself to you” We’re not idiots and if there is a reason behind a given decision then whether we agree with it or not, it is better to know that than just think that the person is a knob who you can’t trust to make a decent decision and you want nothing more to do with them. Ever.
Lastly, I have my five point checklist, these are five simple questions that I ask myself when dealing with anything, graded on the severity of the types of incidents that we actually deal with. If the answer to any of these is yes, then obviously there is a need for concern and it needs to be dealt with effectively until all answers become no.
Is action or inaction likely to lead to -
1 You being dead?
2 Anyone else being dead?
3 You suffering any injury either serious or otherwise?
4 Anyone else suffering any injury either serious or otherwise?
5 You or anyone that matters losing their job and/or going to prison?
If at first look all the answers are no then take a second, have a deep breath and ask yourself, why are you flapping?