ORILLIA, Ont. (Canadian OH&S News)
In response to a scathing report from the ombudsman calling for better handling of officers with occupational stress injuries, Ontario’s police force recently launched an internal review into their oh&s practices.
An announcement from the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) headquarters in Orillia, Ont. said on Jan. 24 that they had sent their first report back to the Ontario ombudsman’s office, which outlined details of their plans for an in-depth review into the health and safety of their officers.
“Effective, two-way communication is critical as we develop longer-term OPP occupational stress injury strategies,” OPP Commissioner Chris Lewis said in a news release. “We’ve already made the commitment to create a proactive and comprehensive mental health and wellness program that will extend beyond the one-year mandate for the OSI working group.”
This latest move by the OPP comes as a follow-up to an audit from the province’s ombudsman, André Marin. In his October 2012 report, In the Line of Duty, Marin determined that the provincial police agency as well as the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services needed to take concrete action to handle the staggering number of OSIs officers are suffering, as well as their consequences. Of particular concern are officers who are not equipped to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder and the risk of suicide. For instance, the report revealed that 23 active and retired officers have killed themselves since 1989 — two more than were killed on duty during the same time period.
As part of the 34 recommendations, Marin said his suggestions focused on “the need to confront the persistent stigma against operational stress injuries in police culture, increase the psychological services available to officers and develop comprehensive, province-wide programs aimed at preventing and dealing with operational stress injuries and suicide.”
Immediately after In the Line of Duty was released last fall, the OPP created a working group specifically to address those recommendations. Their most recent review also includes the fact that civilian officers and their families will also be included in the overall health and safety improvements.
“One of our goals is to increase the OPP’s capacity to support family members and retirees who may be directly or indirectly affected by OSI,” Lewis explained. “We know that it will take time to address the stigma associated with OSI and mental health issues among police personnel.”
Jim Christie, president of the Ontario Provincial Police Association — which represents 9,000 officers in the province — welcomed the ombudsman’s report and said he hoped it would encourage overall change when it comes to OSIs for police officers.
“Our members — both uniform and civilian — are susceptible to stress injuries due to the unique nature of their jobs,” Christie said in a statement. “They deserve our full support during these dark times. The OPP Association is pleased that this issue is finally getting serious attention, and we remain committed to getting members, and their families, the supports they need.”