Of­fi­cers may face stress in­juries af­ter shoot­ing: ex­perts

The Western Star - - CANADA -

Four years af­ter Justin Bourque’s Monc­ton shoot­ing ram­page that killed three RCMP con­sta­bles, po­lice of­fi­cers in New Brunswick are fac­ing a new trau­matic event that may have long-last­ing psy­cho­log­i­cal con­se­quences, ex­perts warn.

On Fri­day morn­ing in the prov­ince’s cap­i­tal, po­lice con­sta­bles Robb Costello and Sara Burns were shot and killed while re­spond­ing to a call at an apart­ment com­plex. Bob­bie Lee Wright, 32, and her boyfriend, Don­nie Ro­bichaud, were also killed by al­leged gun­man Matthew Vin­cent Ray­mond, who has been charged with four counts of first-de­gree mur­der.

One ex­pert said that in the af­ter­math of a trau­matic event, po­lice of­fi­cers can de­velop op­er­a­tional stress in­juries (OSI), es­pe­cially those who have seen both col­leagues and friends killed in the line of duty.

“It is im­por­tant to un­der­stand that be­hind the badge, we have a hu­man be­ing,’’ said Katy Kamkar, a clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist with the Cen­tre for Ad­dic­tion and Men­tal Health (CAMH) in Toronto.

CAMH de­fines an OSI as any per­sis­tent psy­cho­log­i­cal dif­fi­culty re­sult­ing from op­er­a­tional du­ties such as law en­force­ment, com­bat or any other ser­vice-re­lated du­ties.

“We run away from trauma while (po­lice of­fi­cers) go to­wards it to face it,’’ said Kamkar, who is also direc­tor of the Badge For Life Canada, an or­ga­ni­za­tion that pro­vides sup­port for po­lice and cor­rec­tions per­son­nel deal­ing with psy­cho­log­i­cal in­juries.

Post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der (PTSD) is one of the main OSI ex­pe­ri­enced by of­fi­cers, she said, but other re­sults of ex­po­sure to trau­matic events can in­clude emo­tional, phys­i­cal and cog­ni­tive re­sponses that are not nec­es­sar­ily rec­og­nized as PTSD.

“We need to have an aware­ness and ap­pre­ci­a­tion for other very known men­tal health con­di­tions that of­fi­cers might face such as de­pres­sion and anx­i­ety dis­or­der,’’ she said.

Canada had its first na­tional sur­vey look­ing at op­er­a­tional stress in­juries among first re­spon­ders pub­lished in 2017 in the Cana­dian Jour­nal of Psy­chi­a­try.

Of the 5,813 first re­spon­ders who par­tic­i­pated in the sur­vey, 44.5 per cent “screened pos­i­tive for clin­i­cally sig­nif­i­cant symp­tom clus­ters con­sis­tent with one or more men­tal dis­or­ders,’’ while Statistics Canada re­ported the rate for the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion at about 10 per cent.

“It is clear that po­lice of­fi­cers and other first re­spon­ders are more likely to ex­pe­ri­ence psy­cho­log­i­cal and phys­i­cal health con­cerns than the reg­u­lar pop­u­la­tion,’’ said Kamkar. “Very fre­quently, if not al­most ev­ery day, they can go through trau­matic events.’’

Po­lice of­fi­cers are the sec­ond most likely in Canada to be slain on the job, af­ter taxi driv­ers, sug­gests a Statistics Canada study re­leased in 2010 that looks at po­lice of­fi­cers who were killed in the line of duty.

Be­tween 1961 and 2009, 133 po­lice of­fi­cers were killed in the line of duty in Canada, the study re­vealed, but that fig­ure does not in­clude other causes of death such as col­li­sions in­volv­ing po­lice cruis­ers.

In­ci­dents such as the shoot­ing in Fred­er­ic­ton and the Monc­ton shoot­ing in June 2014 “cause po­lice of­fi­cers to re­flect on their ca­reer,’’ said Tom Sta­matakis, direc­tor of the Cana­dian Po­lice As­so­ci­a­tion.

For some of­fi­cers it might mean the po­ten­tial risks of be­ing in­volved in these kinds of in­ci­dents be­comes too sig­nif­i­cant to con­tinue in polic­ing, he said, adding that ev­ery­one re­acts dif­fer­ently and that some won’t re­al­ize the emo­tional af­fects for a long time.


Po­lice block a road in a Fred­er­ic­ton neigh­bour­hood on Satur­day.

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