OHS Canada Magazine

Front-line RCMP detachment staff face unique stress, safety concerns: Union

New report, based on interviews with DSAs, outlines 12 recommendations to improve working conditions


Photo: Getty Images

The union representing the RCMP’s detachment service assistants (DSAs) is calling for what it calls “crucial workplace improvements” for these front-line workers in the wake of a new report.

DSAs serve as the first point of contact in every RCMP detachment across the country, said the Union of Safety and Justice Employees (USJE). The new research, by public safety academic Rosemary Ricciardelli, highlights the disturbing challenges for DSAs – who are predominantly female workers.

The research, which sought input from 54 DSAs, sought to better understand the risk of violence and occupational stress injury.

12 recommendations

A total of 12 key recommendations were identified by researchers to improve the mental health and efficacy of DSAs working in the RCMP, including some short term ones:

  • the installation of bullet proof glass at their workspaces;
  • mandatory inclusion of DSAs in critical incident debriefs;
  • the development and implementation of comprehensive training for DSAs across the country;
  • access to mental health supports that better reflects the needs and experiences of DSAs.

Safety concerns

While some staff raised issues about workplace safety – citing things like being alone in smaller detachments or lack of bulletproof glass to protect them from the visiting public – the bulk of responses focused around the issue of vicarious trauma, the report said.

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That’s because the DSAs are often confronted with disturbing crimes involving both adults and children.

“Several noted that, although on entering the role they expected to deal with ‘crime’ and ‘bad things,’ they were unprepared and thus shocked the first time they flipped open a file to find photographs of deceased individuals,” the report said.

With adults, accidental deaths, homicides, suicides and physical violence cases are common. With children, the most frequently mentioned example of disturbing materials were those involving sexual abuse, the report said.

In many cases, the workers knew or had a connection to the victims in their community.

“Knowing the victim cannot be discounted as impactful to well-being, and must be recognized as too common in remote and rural areas,” the report said. “DSAs are often long-time residents of a community their detachment covers, which, particularly in small communities, leaves them susceptible to knowing both victims and those criminalized.”

One of the most common tasks assigned to these workers is the transcription of victim, witness and offender statements.

A central concern among DSAs was a general feeling that their roles were neither understood or valued.

“The RCMP have a huge lack of not understanding what it is that DSAs do and see are subjected to,” said one respondent. “They don’t get it.”

RCMP supportive

The RCMP encouraged DSAs across the country to participate in the research, the union said.

“Since the inception of this research, USJE has been pleased to have an open and candid dialogue with Commissioner Lucki about how to improve workplace safety and better equip DSAs to excel in their roles. DSAs work in a dynamic, high stress environment providing crucial operational support to members,” said David Neufeld, president, USJE.  “Moving forward on the recommendations to ensure DSAs feel safe and supported will make for a better RCMP.”

“We recognize that DSAs are vulnerable to trauma by virtue of how they interface with the public and their role in supporting members who go out into the field. They are in no way immune.”

People on their ‘worst days’

RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki said DSAs provide an essential front-line service.

“In the performance of their role, DSAs often see individuals on their worst days. The RCMP recognizes the challenges and difficulties experienced by our valued DSAs. We are committed to work with the Union of Safety and Justice Employees with respect to the recommendations identified in this report and we will continue to ensure the health and safety of our DSAs in the critical role they play in our organization,” said Lucki.

USJE said it plans to continue its dialogue with the RCMP on the implementation of all 12 recommendations in the coming months/years. This report was the first of its kind in Canada to examine the specific roles of DSAs within the RCMP.

While historically an exclusively female profession, DSAs positions are now filled by men and women, though women continue to comprise over 80 percent of DSAs.

Link to full report: https://bit.ly/34jRNBV