Ottawa police have launched a six-month pilot program aimed at early intervention for officers before mental health issues become insurmountable, according to a report to the police services board on the status of the force’s wellness strategy.
The early intervention program began in February and is just that — a program that identifies officers and civilians who may need help and flags those individuals and their circumstances for a supervisor to check in on before things get worse.
The pilot program has set three thresholds for check-in from a supervisor: complaints, overtime and “critical incidents.”
Any officer involved in two complaints from the public to the Office of the Independent Police Review Director in three months, one chief’s complaint initiated by the force, or one event being investigated by the Special Investigations Unit — whether as a witness or subject officer — must be checked on by a supervisor.
Any employee working more than 50 hours of overtime in 30 days or 140 hours in 90 days, or any officer or civilian involved in three critical incidents in 30 days or six in 90 days must also be checked in on. No one is not obligated to accept the offer of help.
The pilot follows patrol officers and dispatchers on D and E platoons, the sexual assault and child abuse unit and all forensic identification investigators.
The force expects a staggered rollout to the whole service in 2020.
The wellness strategy, meant to reduce the stigma of mental health challenges in policing and promote resiliency, was officially approved by the police board in April 2017.
In 2016, the province passed legislation that presumed PTSD diagnosed in any first responder is a work-related injury.
The report to the board offers an update on the work done to date.
Police are aware that there might be “pressure points” created when employees are away from work, working while sick, accommodated or use other mental health services, but the force maintains that the work of prevention will help ease those pressures in the long run.
In 2018, 1,402 members of the police service completed the road to mental readiness training offered by the force, which was originally developed by the Department of National Defence.
In July 2018, the service launched a peer support program with 37 fully trained peer supporters, available to support officers as fellow officers during challenging life changes like a divorce or work-related issues like tough calls. Most of that peer-to-peer work occurs outside of regular work hours. By the end of the year, 44 people had used the program.
The police board is also set to receive the force’s annual report for workplace injuries, illnesses and incidents for 2018 on Monday.
That report, meant to tally the frequency and severity of injuries and evaluate the effectiveness of the force’s policies and programs, shows that the equivalent of 41 full-time police employees was away from work for all of 2018. The total cost to the service of having employees off work or sick in 2018 was $6.9 million.
There were 18 cases of psychological injury last year “when a member is exposed to a psychological stressor.”
“In 2018, approximately 11 per cent of OPS members reported an injury or illness that resulted in the need for medical care and/or time away from work,” according to the report. That frequency only increased by less than one per cent from 2017.
But what did increase was the severity of their injuries.
“If an OPS member missed work due to an injury or illness in 2018, the average amount of time away from work was 804 hours per injury or illness.”
That marker of severity was up 46 per cent from 2017.