WATCH: 'Supercop' Ali on why he had to walk away from job he loved
PUBLISHED: 17:45 08 July 2019 | UPDATED: 10:14 09 July 2019
He was once dubbed Supercop after clocking up more than 1,000 arrests in 18 months - but now former Suffolk police sergeant Ali Livingstone has revealed why he walked away from the job he loved.
The 36-year-old, who joined the force at 18, said a mental breakdown in March last year "hit him like a bus" and led to him quitting policing after nearly 20 years on the beat.
His unparalleled arrest record, which saw him run in more than 500 suspects in a year (or 2.2 a day), earned Mr Livingstone the nicknames 'Robocop', the 'Arrest Machine' and 'Supercop'.
Now in a new role - and with a book in the pipeline - the ex-sergeant is breaking his silence about his post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety and depression in a bid to help others.
"I went from being the UK's top arresting officer to being so troubled by what I'd seen and done in the line of duty that I've had to walk away from the very job that defined me," he said.
"To those who think I was just locking up petty criminals for minor offences, you couldn't be further from the truth.
"It was an accumulation of exposure to trauma, like house fires, fatal car crashes, murders for example, but also speaking to bereaved families, seeing families being split up. For me that's the hidden harm. You're always faced with those raw emotions.
"Gore is something most cops can deal with, but when you're dealing with emotional trauma it becomes relentless being faced with it on a daily basis.
"I can't drive anywhere in Ipswich without being constantly reminded of the more serious, sad incidents we deal with.
"Those memories bleed into your normal life."
'Broken beyond repair'
Mr Livingstone, who worked as a response sergeant, tactical advisor, negotiator and police search advisor, admits the last 15 months have been "debilitating and devastating", and left him feeling "broken beyond repair".
"It hit me like a bus", he said of his breakdown, which led to him being signed off work.
"When your PTSD, depression and anxiety is anchored around policing, you have to decide whether to carry on or not," he said.
"I thought I had a good understanding of mental health, having encountered it on a daily basis.
"In truth I was completely ignorant. I don't see that as a failing on my part, as we can't be experts in everything, but I do know want to use my experience to help others, particularly those charged with keeping the public safe.
"The pressures of policing do have an impact, we've got people's lives in our hands and that's a burden that weighs heavily on us."
No particular event triggered his PTSD, Mr Livingstone said, praising the support he received from the force.
And although the role was hectic and busy, the 36-year-old said he loved rising to it and "was always working at max capacity", but "never quite completed the level".
'We had tough times over the years' - How policing has changed
Pressure on officers has stayed relatively steady over the years, but new crimes bring with them fresh challenges, he added.
"In Ipswich, we have rising knife crime, across Suffolk, we have online crime, and historic sex offences to deal with.
"We had tough times over the years, and during my career I worked on the Steve Wright case and the shooting at Zest nightclub.
"Violent crime is more of a threat now, but policing was always a challenging job. I've always found it quite rewarding.
"Despite what's happened I loved the job, and I am devastated that I had to leave, that I couldn't continue doing what I loved."
'I wear my scars proudly'
The "peer to peer" support network within the force was strong, Mr Livingstone said, with officers looking out for one another.
"We are going in the right direction when it comes to mental health, but I think we've only just scratched the surface," he added.
"When I was off work I didn't tell anyone, and no-one at work was told why I was off initially. That wouldn't happen if I had been injured in a crash or something like that.
"That's where the stigma still exists, and I think it exists everywhere.
"I'm not ashamed, and I do wear my scars proudly.
"To all the cops out there, keep fighting the good fight. You do the toughest of jobs and the overwhelming majority of the public have your back and support you.
He added: "Cops live in a dangerous, threat-filled world and at times it feels like the harsh reality of life is almost inescapable."
Immediate and round-the-clock support available
Suffolk Constabulary takes their duty of care to all employees very seriously, said the force's Lauren Soames.
"It is important that officers and staff talk to the organisation and the workplace health department about their struggles in order to gain access to the most appropriate support," she added.
"We have a traumatic incident debrief process, employee assistance programme, and proactive wellbeing initiatives and sessions as well as the Walnut Tree service, based in Suffolk and Norfolk, that includes immediate and round-the-clock support from their community response team for staff and officers living with PTSD, trauma and complex mental ill health.
"In circumstances where staff are unable to return to front line duties, we do everything we can to assist them through return to work programmes. Individuals are supported by their manager and our workplace health team and we work closely with our unions and staff associations."