(ORILLIA, ON) - The Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) has had three member suicides within three weeks. A tremendous void has been left behind that has impacted the entire organization across the province.
"During the past weeks immediate families and OPP members, including myself, have been dealing with the grief of our loss. This is a very difficult time," said Commissioner J.V.N. (Vince) Hawkes. "I offer my sincere condolences to the immediate families and OPP members on the recent deaths of our members, Sergeant Sylvain Routhier, Detective Inspector Paul Horne and Provincial Constable Joshua De Bock."
The OPP recognizes there is a stigma associated with suicide and mental illness. Commissioner Hawkes is committing to examining and assessing the barriers that prevent OPP members from seeking assistance and support.
The OPP is taking a three-part collaborative approach to breaking down these barriers associated with suicide and mental illness: enhance - examine - evaluate.
Enhance - The OPP will build on its Mental Health Strategy, Our People, Our Communities. In 2014, the OPP Wellness Unit was created to respond to the ombudsman's report regarding operational stress injuries affecting police officers. The development of the OPP Mental Health Strategy: Our People, Our Communities followed in 2015.
Examine - The OPP will be examining the barriers preventing our members, officers and civilians, from seeking assistance and support by conducting an internal review of member suicides and attempted suicides within the last five years. The review will be led by Detective Superintendent Ken Leppert to identify potential links and commonalities. The review will also examine potential gaps that may be addressed through training and programs.
Evaluate - A Mental Health Roundtable Assessment Team led by Chief Superintendents Chris Harkins and John Sullivan will be established to include internal OPP members, family members and external stakeholders and experts. A report on the findings and recommendations will be provided to Commissioner's Committee.
· The first roundtable will focus on internal members. Breaking the silence, we want to hear from OPP members, officers and civilians, who are willing to come forward to talk about their experience, the challenges they faced and what they did to overcome their struggles.
· The second roundtable will be dedicated to family members. The OPP's mental health roundtable assessment team will engage with impacted family members in a discussion to share their perspective on how the stigma affected them and their experience supporting their loved one.
· The third roundtable will engage external stakeholders and experts. The OPP will extend an invitation for participation to external stakeholders and experts who have field experience assisting first responders in crisis to recommend solutions.
· In addition, Deputy Commissioner Rick Barnum is tasked with reviewing and evaluating the OPP's Safeguard Program, which has been in existence for 15 years and has been utilized for the assessment of those members working in specialized areas of the organization.
"We want everyone to feel that they can open up and ask for help. If you are or someone you know is struggling, I urge you to use one of our many support services, and if in crisis, get immediate help," said Commissioner Hawkes. "No one should suffer in silence. Together, let's break the silence."
Access to the Commissioner's full statement is available on the OPP's social media accounts, Twitter @OPP_News and on Facebook @OntarioProvincialPolice