‘Ottawa’ Ottawa Police to Roll Out PTSD Prevention Plan
Ottawa police will submit a plan for “PTSD prevention” to the police board and then the province in April, following a provincial mandate to do so.
While the police force is legally required to present the plan, both its creators and police brass are clear that post-traumatic stress disorder simply isn’t preventable in policing.
“You can’t prevent the traumatic incident because that’s the business we’re in,” Chief Charles Bordeleau told a police board human resources committee meeting Monday.
But, he said, the force will attempt to mitigate the impacts of that trauma.
The five-year plan, which the force says will be re-evaluated and reassessed as needed, will train supervisors and colleagues to know what symptoms to look for in their peers so that the force can intervene in officer health early.
The Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, which pays out PTSD-related claims for first responders and presumes that the PTSD is work-related, requires that supervisors sign off on claims.
Bordeleau said supervisors will have to view their employees with the “lens of mental well-being” — knowing what to look for and recognizing it when it presents.
The force has officers be off work for partial or full symptoms. The plan, ideally, would allow for early intervention so that the symptoms are identified and the officer or civilian employee can seek treatment before having to leave work or be accommodated.
The plan will also seek to improve police culture and associated PTSD stigma.
Angela Slobodian, the director of the force’s wellness program, called that “huge” for both the force and its efforts. Slobodian was clear that a cultural change of that scope will take years.
As envisioned, the plan would address employee mental health from what the service is calling “pre-hire to post-retire.”
The force does have baselines for measuring any progress. Benchmarks such as sick leave and long-term disability claims will be able to measure if the work to mitigate the effects of police work have been successful. There is also a benchmark to measure any cultural shift.
In 2015, the force commissioned Carleton University’s Sprott School of Business to conduct a study to identify barriers that prevented the police service from properly addressing the wellness of officers and civilian employees. That study also offered a snapshot of the culture of the force and found that the force was plagued by a “disconnect between ranks” and is “broken” and “dysfunctional.”
Bordeleau told the committee that the study gives the force a starting point to measure what’s changed.
The plan is separated into three parts — environment, culture and individual — with each having three “phases” rather than strict timelines.
“Without a good environment, without good policies and good programs, without individuals who want to be engaged in those programs and a culture that is accepting to that, we won’t have success,” said Deputy Chief Steve Bell.
“We have to look at them comprehensively together,” Bell said.
Police board member Coun. Allan Hubley questioned why the force is even entertaining the need to call it a prevention plan if they concede that isn’t a realistic goal of the program.
“It hurts the credibility of the whole effort if no one buys into the name,” Hubley said.
Provincial legislation mandates that the plan addresses “prevention.” Bordeleau told the committee that if the police board has concerns about the name, the board could write a letter to the province advising them.
The force is already aware that with increasing PTSD awareness, it has to expect that the number of officers who are diagnosed with PTSD will also go up.
“We’ve seen it go up already,” Bordeleau said. In 2015, the force had four claims for traumatic experiences. In 2016, there were 20.
The police board is also scheduled to receive a comprehensive report on the force’s entire wellness strategy next month.