Trauma takes its toll

Former police officer David Bentley. d423817
Former police officer David Bentley. d423817

At 18-years-old, in 1973, Lathlain man David Bentley joined the WA Police as a cadet: 35 years and many fatalities and traumatic incidents later he was medically retired.

He said he hated the Police and what they did to him.

‘They warn you about the violence you may encounter in your career but they don’t tell you about the lingering psychological effects,’ he said.

He said the people he picked up off the road after a fatality visited him in his dreams.

Add that other to psychological effects, and it led to his break down in 2001.

‘I walked into work and sat at my desk. There were crash files sitting on there, as well as the phone. I just turned around and walked out the door. I came home locked myself in the bedroom and broke down,’ he said.

On day three after starting his career, Mr Nelson had a dead baby in his arms.

‘I had to take the baby from a distraught mum to the state mortuary and be present while the post-mortem was performed,’ he said.

‘You can’t talk about these things with your family because they don’t know, they don’t need to know.’

He said Police had to portray a very professional image at all times.

‘Say you’re dealing with a crash scene and there are distraught family members. You have to be stone cold.’

He said it was about 10 years into his career when he realised something was wrong.

‘My daughter was a baby at the time, and she fell over and cut herself. Instead of picking her up and giving her a cuddle like a normal person would, I picked her up and shook her because I was really angry,’ he said.

‘I was angry at a child who didn’t know any better.’

He said he stopped and thought something was not right but then he dismissed it and put it behind him.

‘It’s like a cancer that grows inside you and gets you at your weakest point. You don’t ever forget what you’ve seen or smelt. They stay with you your whole life.’

He said officers would deal with trauma by sharing a couple of beers afterwards.

‘After a while the one or two beers don’t work. You lose sleep and your dreams become disrupted. Your nerves become frail. You dread the phone ringing because you don’t know what going to come next.’

He said he was fortunate to have a wife who stuck by him.

‘It could easily have been a case of her abandoning me. If she had I would have been under a bridge or in a car, I would have gassed myself.’