TORONTO – Ontario’s chief coroner has launched a review of police suicides that took place in the province last year after noticing a spike in officers killing themselves.
Eight active officers and one recently retired officer died by suicide across the province in 2018, Dr. Dirk Huyer said Friday, noting that no more than five officers had taken their own lives in any one of the previous five years.
Huyer said he was in the process of putting together an expert panel to review last year’s deaths, with the goal of releasing a report along with recommendations to the public by early summer.
“If we’re going to do something to help people and help reduce further deaths, we want to do it as quickly, efficiently and effectively as we can,” he said in an interview.
The families of all nine officers who took their own lives, along with their police forces, are supportive of the review, he said.
The issue of officer suicides was thrust into the spotlight last summer after three members of the Ontario Provincial Police killed themselves in a short period of time.
Huyer said a number of officers, associations representing them, police executives and coroners in the province were discussing the issue and some reached out to him. “There were a number of red flags,” he said.
In an effort to analyze the matter further, Huyer said he then drilled down into data held by his own office. He discovered there hadn’t been more than five officers who killed themselves in any one year in the five years before 2018.
Huyer said he decided to have the 2018 officer suicides examined through an expert review rather than through a coroner’s inquest since the panel approach had several advantages.
An expert review can be completed much faster than an inquest, can have a broader scope and will be carried out by those who already have a deep understanding of policing and mental health, he explained.
“The panel will be informed about the culture, the issues, the challenges and can work together to give the best recommendations arising from their analysis of the cases,” Huyer said.
A psychiatrist and a human resources expert on wellness with a police force will be among those on the panel, he said, adding that work has already begun with the coroner’s office obtaining the officers’ police service employee records and medical records.
“(The review) is to bring a data-driven approach to understand if there are issues – and if there are issues, are the mental strategies in place and are they effective?” Huyer said. “Nobody has shown any resistance to this at all. They want to learn from this to help their officers.”
The chief of Waterloo regional police, where one officer died by suicide last year, said he had spoken to Huyer and supported the review.
“We fully support and welcome a review that will help determine how mental health support can be better provided to first responders,” said Chief Bryan Larkin in a statement. “We look forward to the review’s findings and we are hopeful this review will result in greater awareness and more discussion concerning mental illness.”
The OPP have launched an internal review after the spate of suicides among its ranks last summer.