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The forced separation from families and loneliness, the tensions in policing, the lack of conditions in the barracks, the discipline to which they are subjected, the coldness of the treatment imposed by the hierarchical superiors – these are the dangerous cauldron where the main reasons that lead to suicide among security forces boil.

Officers in training at the practical Police School, in Torres Novas, already know where they will end up, on duty, when they finish the course: whether they come from Trás-os-Montes, Minho, Beiras, Sul, Madeira, or the Azores – they are all placed in Lisbon. It is not worth dreaming that soon they can return to the distant family. They will have to wait a decade or more for the marching band. You can ask for it after a year of service, but in front of you are hundreds of comrades, with more years in uniform, waiting for the desired transfer.

The forced separation from families and loneliness, the tensions in the day – to-day policing, the lack of conditions in the barracks, the discipline to which they are subjected, the coldness of the treatment imposed by the hierarchical superiors-this is the dangerous crucible where the main reasons that lead to suicide among the security forces boil.

In the last 24 years, from 2000 to the end of 2023, 176 members of the security forces have committed suicide: 85 from the PSP and 91 from the GNR, according to chief Miguel Rodrigues, a university professor, leader of The Independent Union of police officers (SIAP) and author of an academic study on suicides in the police.

“The number of suicides in the Portuguese security forces is one of the highest in Europe: the average exceeds those of Spain, France, Belgium and Italy. It is almost twice as high as in the general population: the equivalent of 17 cases per 100 thousand inhabitants”, says Miguel Rodrigues to DN.

The vast majority – 90%-choose to shoot themselves. According to the study by chief Miguel Rodrigues, a still considerable number of suicides in the security forces, 40%, wore the uniform – which may be “revealing a feeling of anger” against the PSP or GNR. Four years ago, in Alentejo, a PSP agent made a point of putting on his dress uniform to kill himself with a shot in the head.

There is no psychological support

Psychological support offered to security forces is scarce. “In the PSP, and as far as I know also in the GNR, there are not enough psychologists”, stresses Miguel Rodrigues. The PSP District Command of Viseu, for example, has only one psychologist for more than a hundred police officers. According to the commander, Intendant Rui De Matos, the personnel are evaluated in individual consultations twice a year.

The vast majority of the 50 thousand GNR and PSP personnel are far from their roots and family – and in the various commands the cabins where they can sleep are scarce and filthy.

The solution is, for the most part, the solitude of a cramped rented room. The salary is not enough. To escape the four walls of their bedroom, they get together in groups of five or six and rent a house – which is increasingly difficult because of the increasing dearth of rents.

“To the day-to-day difficulties, we add the scarcity of income, the insensitivity of the hierarchy and the deficit training during the course period”, underlines Miguel Rodrigues.

Officer Miguel graduated from the police practical School four years ago. No one told him that he was going to be placed in a room in Lisbon – and living, far from his family, in a damp and icy cabin, walls blackened by fungi, infested with rats and cockroaches.

These cabins are 4.º Lisbon Division, in Largo do Calvário, in Alcântara, do not even have hot water. Miguel and the 29 officers who live there, all from the north of the country, had good medicine if they wanted to take a shower on these winter mornings: they signed up for a gym so they could have what the police don’t give them – hot water for a bath.

Miguel and his 29 comrades are among the policemen who, since last Sunday, have demonstrated, day and night, in silent protest in front of the Assembly of the Republic.

They’re not just fighting for better wages. An agent at the beginning of his career takes home 967 euros per month, including supplements, and another with ten years of service earns 1094 euros per month.

“We demand a risk allowance and that all supplements be included in the salary in order to count towards retirement. And we demand working conditions and that we be treated with dignity,” chief Nuno Castro of the autonomous Police Union Association (Asapol) told DN.

Danger on wheels

Chief Castro is stationed in the Loures division, which has only one patrol car – a single vehicle to serve the sacavém, São João da Talha, Santo António dos Cavaleiros and Caneças police stations. Caneças ‘ patrol car, for example, has been sitting for months waiting for a battery.

The PSP fleet is old. Cars fall apart. Those who still resist “only circulate because the agents repair them or take them to repair them, sometimes even paying out of their own pocket,” according to Armando Ferreira, president of the National Police Union.

Patrol cars are dangerous. “They walk without the inspection on time”, guarantees the DN a commissioner of the Lisbon metropolitan command. Nor is there money to replace the bald tires. “When I answer a call I drive with my heart in my hands,” officer Trindade says.

But the driving of patrol cars that already owe a few years to scrap metal is over – the policemen, as a protest against the current working conditions, refuse to start on vehicles in poor condition.

The protest began a week ago, at the initiative of the agent Pedro Costa, placed in the airport division, who started the vigil on the access staircase to Parliament. Others followed, and many more followed, in a move that surprised professional associations. There are those who see here The Hand of Chega. Pedro Costa denies any links to parties.

The protest, union leaders predict, will not slow down and more forms of struggle are coming. This Friday, at the vigil outside Parliament, the possibility of police officers simply refusing to drive patrol cars was discussed. “Having a driver’s license is not a requirement for admission to practical Police School,” one officer explained. Cars will still be parked outside police stations.

Related article: PSP and GNR unions call for a strike on January 31.

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