OPP officers with PTSD being failed by bureaucracy, ombud report says
TORONTO - OPP officers are being failed by a police force and a government bureaucracy that doesn’t recognize, let alone respond, to on-the-job psychological injuries, a special investigation by Ontario ombudsman Andre Marin concludes.
“They battle every day with depression, anxiety, nightmares, addictions and post-traumatic stress disorder,” Marin said Wednesday.
“And on top of all that, they battle a culture that tells them they should ‘suck it up’ and be strong. They battle a bureaucratic structure that is so behind the times that it doesn’t have any idea how many of them have this kind of injury or even how many of them have killed themselves.”
Marin accused OPP brass and the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services of initially giving the issue the “bureaucratic brush off,” although they later sent letters to his office indicating they would follow up on his recommendations.
His report, In the Line of Duty, recommends the OPP must take steps to reduce the stigma of operational stress injuries and provide support to officers and their families who are suffering from psychological injuries.
Marin officially recognizes a Toronto Sun series of articles about retired OPP detective-inspector Bruce Kruger’s struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder.
“The articles were extremely critical of the absence of resources and support for officers suffering from this condition,” the report says of the series by Mark Bonokoski.
Kruger, who retired from the OPP in 1999, complained to the ombudsman’s office in 2010 and expressed relief with the results of the investigation.
“The culture within the OPP and pretty well any policing service has never changed since I was involved in 1984 when I first approached for help,” Kruger said.
“I was basically warned don’t say anything or you won’t receive a promotion.”
Kruger said he still receives counselling to this day for the trauma he suffered on the job, but other officers turn to drugs or alcohol or even suicide to deal with PTSD.
The ombudsman’s office received 48 more complaints and submissions from active and retired OPP officers, as well as 14 complaints from municipal police officers after launching his investigation.
In all, 78 officers shared their personal stories of PTSD with the ombudsman.
“Police officers are often exposed to brutal murders, assaults and shocking accidents; horrific sights, smells and sounds,” the report notes. “They put themselves in the line of fire and risk attack by knives, guns and ramming cars. This is the stuff of nightmares. Sometimes those nightmares stick, and sometimes they accumulate, wearing down even those with the strongest of constitutions.”
An official response from the OPP to Marin’s report says that the service takes operational stress injuries seriously, and will respond to its recommendation.
The OPP has spent almost $3.5 million over six years on more than 100 claims connected to psychological injuries from workplace-related trauma, the report says.
Yet, the OPP only had one psychologist on staff to respond to officers, Marin’s investigators found.
The report highlights the case of Sgt. Douglas Marshall, a 22-year veteran who committed suicide while at work last April at the age of 45 after a battle with PTSD.
Marshall had responded to a young adult’s suicide, and the death of a four-year-old and a police officer who had drowned in a lifesaving attempt.
Although diagnosed with PTSD, he returned quickly to work with the Southern Georgian Bay detachment, perhaps concerned about how he would be perceived by his peers.
“Over the April 2012 Easter weekend, Sgt. Marshall became agitated and the family encouraged him to get further medical assistance,” the report says. “By the following Tuesday, he was back at work where he used his service weapon to end his life.”
Between January 1989 and May 2012, there were 23 suicides of 16 active and seven retired OPP officers, making it more probable that an OPP officer will commit suicide than be killed in the line of duty.http://www.torontosun.com/2012/10/24/op ... eport-says