In­ter­nal re­view to ex­am­ine sui­cides among On­tario Provin­cial Po­lice

The Niagara Falls Review - - Canada & World - ALANNA RIZZA

The re­cent sui­cides of three of­fi­cers in as many weeks has prompted On­tario’s provin­cial po­lice force to launch an in­ter­nal re­view on what might be pre­vent­ing those within its ranks from seek­ing help with men­tal health is­sues.

In an­nounc­ing the anal­y­sis that will ex­am­ine sui­cides and at­tempted sui­cides in­volv­ing force mem­bers over the last five years, On­tario Provin­cial Po­lice also said they would work on de­vel­op­ing ways to boost sup­ports of­fered to of­fi­cers.

“The OPP rec­og­nizes that there is stigma as­so­ci­ated with sui­cide and men­tal ill­ness,” On­tario Provin­cial Po­lice Com­mis­sioner Vince Hawkes said Thurs­day.

“Al­though we don’t have all the an­swers, and I cer­tainly don’t have all the an­swers, we will con­tinue to work to­gether to break down the bar­ri­ers and pro­vide sup­port.”

The force’s in­ter­nal re­view will try to iden­tify sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween sui­cides and at­tempted sui­cides in the force and look at what might have hin­dered those in­di­vid­u­als from get­ting help, Hawkes said.

A series of round­tables — made up of of­fi­cers, men­tal health ex­perts and fam­ily of first re­spon­ders — will also be launched to craft rec­om­men­da­tions on how the force can im­prove the men­tal health as­sis­tance it of­fers, he said.

The ini­tia­tives will build on the force’s men­tal health strat­egy cre­ated in re­sponse to a 2012 om­buds­man re­port that looked at OPP of­fi­cers suf­fer­ing from de­pres­sion, anx­i­ety and post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der due to trauma on the job.

The re­port said the force was fail­ing to help those of­fi­cers and a list of rec­om­men­da­tions was pro­vided.

“The OPP con­tin­ues to make men­tal health a pri­or­ity for our peo­ple and our com­mu­nity but clearly we need to do more,” said Hawkes. “There are se­ri­ous gaps and bar­ri­ers that re­quire fur­ther ex­am­i­na­tion, re­view and eval­u­a­tion.”

Ear­lier this month, Sgt. Syl­vian Routhier, Det. In­spec­tor Paul Horne and Const. Joshua De Bock died by sui­cide within a three-week period, the OPP said. Their jobs ranged from front-line work to spe­cial in­ves­ti­ga­tions and they were posted in dif­fer­ent parts of the province, the force said.

The deaths prompted the head of the union rep­re­sent­ing provin­cial po­lice of­fi­cers to write a deeply per­sonal let­ter urg­ing mem­bers to reach out if they found them­selves in emo­tional dis­tress.

Hawkes said the en­tire force had spent the last few weeks griev­ing the loss of the three of­fi­cers, adding that their deaths left a “tremen­dous void.”

In the last 30 years, the OPP has doc­u­mented 24 force mem­bers and nine re­tired mem­bers that died by sui­cide, Hawkes said.

The com­mis­sioner added that the force is also meet­ing with the province to de­ter­mine how the gov­ern­ment can help pro­vide bet­ter men­tal health sup­port to first re­spon­ders.

Vince Savoia, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the Tema Con­ter Me­mo­rial Trust, which fo­cuses on the men­tal health of first re­spon­ders, said he’s “thank­ful” that the OPP is con­duct­ing an in­ter­nal re­view and hav­ing more dis­cus­sions about men­tal ill­ness.

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