When cop suicides hit 14, it's well beyond a number game

Suicides among OPP officers are higher than on-duty deaths. Moreover, OPP does not formally keep track of the number of officers that have taken their own lives.

When cop suicides hit 14, it's well beyond a number game

Postby Thomas » Thu Jun 13, 2019 2:06 am

BONOKOSKI: When cop suicides hit 14, it's well beyond a numbers game

The numbers are the headlines.

No. 14, the count having long ago reached a critical stage, was behind the locked door in the basement laundry room.

“Go play pool,” read the note she had left upstairs for her husband,

So, downstairs he went, a foreboding no doubt building inside him, and there in the laundry room, he found his wife dead and hanging, their twin eight-year-old children spared the discovery because of that note.

Why was he told to go downstairs to play pool?

Now he knew.

Karen Anne Peoples was 36, and had been patrolling the territory around Fergus, Ont., as an OPP constable for a little more than a dozen years but was on disability for the last few.

She was blonde, and pretty, but she was also as skinny as a reed from an eating disorder that not even the specialists at the renowned Homewood Health Centre in nearby Guelph could wrestle away.

But 14 is the number for the headline, because Karen Peoples was the 14th active or retired OPP officer to commit suicide since 2012, the blame usually laid squarely on post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

George Najbert does not have the answers, and he and his wife, Liz, are still trying to come to grips with whatever it was that drove their daughter to take her own life without them resorting to pointing fingers.

“Her story should get out,” he said from his home in Niagara Falls. “We all tend to live sheltered lives, but if Karen died because of some ‘cause,’ what was that ‘cause’ and what could have been done about it?

“Maybe nothing,” he concedes. “Who knows?”

George Najbert runs through all the possibilities. Was it the post-partum depression his daughter suffered after the birth of her twin boy and girl that triggered the eating disorder that forced her into treatment? Or was it set off by what she had witnessed from years on the road as an OPP officer working 12-hour shifts — the fatalities, the naked grief, the violent domestic disputes, and all the trauma and the drama?

Go play pool is not the kind of note that provides any answers.

But the OPP has admitted it has a crisis on its hands.

On Thursday or Friday, an internal report on the recent rash of suicides, ordered by outgoing OPP Commissioner Vince Hawkes, and authored by two chief superintendents, is expected to be handed in.

At the end of April, with Ontario Provincial Police Association president Rob Jamieson at her side, Ontario Solicitor General Sylvia Jones announced the investment of $500,000 towards an independent three-person panel to review the workplace culture at the OPP that has often been accused of being rife with harassment and a bully-boy management style.

And on top of that, Ontario’s chief coroner Dr. Dirk Huyer announced in January that his office will be doing a deep dive into the 2018 suicides of nine police officers from various forces across the entire province.

“I’m going to identify experts who will deal with mental wellness, deal with operation stress injury, and deal with health and wellness within a police service,” said Huyer.

“Our job is to prevent further death.”

This is too little too late for Karen Anne Peoples, of course. Her funeral has already been held, with donations going to the Homewood.

No. 15, however, has yet to have a name.

But he or she is out there.

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