Ombudsman slams OPP for lack of action on PTSD among police
Ontario Ombudsman André Marin has slammed the Ontario Provincial Police and the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services for being “reluctant” to acknowledge and take action to support police officers who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, likening the response to a “bureaucratic brush-off.”Marin said the results are tragic, revealing “for the first time” that 23 OPP members have committed suicide since 1989 — two more than have been killed in the line of duty.
There have been five OPP suicides in the past 18 months alone.
In his long-awaited 155-page report called, “In the Line of Duty,” which was released Wednesday, Marin said both the OPP and the ministry have shown little leadership in implementing proactive, preventive programs to help officers.
He makes 34 recommendations — 28 of them directed at the OPP alone — that focus on the need to confront the stigma in the police culture, increase psychological services available to officers and to develop province-wide programs aimed at preventing and dealing with operational stress injuries and suicide.
He calls on the OPP to conduct a comprehensive review of its education, training, peer support, employee assistance and other programming related to these injuries.
The OPP’s existing wellness and awareness programs vary across the province and its own psychologist called them “haphazard,” Marin wrote.
OPP Commissioner Chris Lewis said he accepts the findings.
At a news conference, he said he wants time to review the recommendations but noted that there is a cost involved at a time of budgetary restraints — and he won’t commit to anything now.
“While we have made significant progress in this area, we can still do better and we will.”
In a recommendation to the ministry, Marin called on the government to implement a province-wide confidential survey and other means to identify how many Ontario police officers, active and retired, are suffering or have suffered from PTSD.
Calling the way the OPP deals with operational stress injuries (OSI) as “as a shoestring operation would be insulting to shoestrings,” Marin told reporters.
The response from Lewis was that he will establish a working group, led by a senior officer, to review the recommendations and take action.
Meanwhile, Ian Davidson, deputy minister of Community Safety, told Marin the ministry will commit to reporting back to the ombudsman’s office quarterly on the issue of OSI affecting police officers.
Lewis added that “there will be a cost associated with these recommendations.”
Marin was not impressed, saying “it still looks to me like a bureaucratic brush-off” and an “ostrich-like reaction of just putting your head in the sand.”
“These are not recommendations that require a great deal of study or debate,” Marin complained.
“My advice to the commissioner is simple: Get down to brass tacks. Deal with the issue. So far the OPP has dealt with it as if it was a public relations issue that they needed to manage. What we’ve heard from the OPP is a lot of claptrap and drivel.”
Although both the OPP and the ministry say they take the issue seriously, Marin said that’s not the case.
If there is one person who can change the “suck it up” and stay strong police culture of the OPP, it may be Lewis, who has been commissioner since August, 2010, and once faced a traumatic event as a tactical officer.
Lewis has the support of retired OPP detective Bruce Kruger, who attended Marin’s news conference at Queen’s Park.
“I have the highest respect for the commissioner,” Kruger said. “If anybody is going to correct the problem I have strong faith in Chris Lewis.”
It was Kruger, who suffers from PTSD, who spearheaded the investigation in March 2011 when he collected 78 active and retired OPP officers to complain that their mental stress was ignored for years by the OPP.
Not only was it ignored, but officers were led to believe that it would a career-ender if they admitted that traumatic events as a police officer would open them up to PTSD.
When the investigation got going, 28 complaints came in from municipal police officers.
Although as ombudsman, Marin has jurisdiction over only the provincial police service, Marin says PTSD exists within all police services.
A big hurdle is that the illness is mostly invisible, unlike physical injuries, and there is much disagreement about how to diagnose PTSD and who should have the authority to make such a judgment.
There is also some belief among police leaders that these injuries are easy to fake.
At the news conference was one of the 28 municipal police officers who complained to the ombudsman.
The Toronto officer, who wouldn’t give his name because of fear of reprisal, began weeping after the press conference when talking about his own battles with PTSD.
He said he has a filed Ontario Human Rights complaint.
“Hearing that stuff about the OPP is very familiar,” the officer said. “We’re not alone. Across Canada, it’s still a blue wall.”
New Democratic Party MPP Cheri DiNovo, who has been trying to get a bill passed that would fast-track post-traumatic stress disorder claims by frontline workers who put in claims for benefits.
“I’m delighted with the report,” DiNovo said. “This report highlights how essential the legislation is.”
Part of the problem that Marin sees is that no one seems to know how big the problem is.
In a recommendation to the ministry, Marin called on the government to implement a province-wide confidential survey and other means to identify how many Ontario police officers, active and retired, are suffering or have suffered from PTSD.http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/arti ... s#commentshttp://www.ombudsman.on.ca/Ombudsman/fi ... 742f1b.pdf