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The crisis in policing continues

February 2020

OK, I’m mad now and for very personal reasons. Last year was a terrible year in policing, with six officers taking their own lives. So far, 2020 isn’t shaping up to be much better.

Back on 6 February, Toronto Police lost one of their own to suicide. Constable Mike Austin took his own life in the parking garage at Toronto Police Headquarters.

Now the West Grey Police Service, a small township police service near Owen Sound, have lost one of their own officers to suicide. I know the West Grey Police Service very well. I served with them for most of my career in policing, retiring in 2017 because of PTSD.

Constable Cory Trainor, a 4-year member of the service who also served as the media relations officer, took his own life in his patrol car, parked at the side of the road, on 18 February. He loaded up his issued C-8 rifle, which normally sits in a gun rack between the driver and passenger seats, and pulled the trigger. He was 28 years old and leaves behind a wife Tyanna, a constable with Peel Regional Police.

Even though I didn’t know him, as he replaced me when I left, it was still a sickening punch to the gut when I heard of his death.

Ironically, Trainor was featured in a CBC News article last June talking about the first PTSD Awareness Day in Ontario. In the article, Trainor commented about the unique stressors that police officers in small towns face, where there’s a higher chance they know the person calling the police for help, some of whom may be having the worst day of their lives.

Trainor further highlights how every West Grey officer goes through the Road to Mental Readiness training program and that, “…the West Grey Police Service is committed to regular training for mental health and bringing in new resources as they’re made available.”

“When we nip it right away, that’s when we’re going to be OK,” Trainor said. “I want everyone to know that, it’s OK to get help and that we’re there for them.”

Sadly, that help apparently wasn’t there when Trainor needed it. It wasn’t there for me either, as it hasn’t been for other officers, despite the promises of police commanders. The line we hear over and over is for members of the police family to reach out for support if needed, but when you do ask for help, it’s not always there.

When I worked for them, West Grey Police didn’t even have an Employee Assistance Program, the first step for help that most employers provide for the health and welfare for their employees. They do now, although the few that I still keep in touch with say that it’s mostly just for show; just so the service can say they have one.

More often than not, officers who’ve sought out help find that the programs offered to them actually hurt them in the end. Some are shamed and shunned by their fellow officers; you are passed over for promotions and job assignments because it is thought that “you just couldn’t hack it.” The old attitude of asking for help means that you are weak still exists, despite all the “Bell Let’s Talk,” “Breaking the Silence” and “Road to Mental Readiness” initiatives.

It’s hard enough to come forward and admit that you are suffering as a result of things that we see or have to do on the job. A disturbing thing that I have personally experienced is workplace bullying and/or a toxic workplace. I’m not the only one.

The workplace bullying that I dealt with, which created a toxic workplace, came in various forms and from people ranging from fellow constables to supervisors, primarily (at West Grey) from my chief, Chief Rene Berger, and my co-worker and association president, Constable, later Sergeant, Mark McComb, the latter of whom was a close friend for almost 30 years. Chief Berger retired from West Grey when his contract wasn’t renewed, but this came too late for me. I was already on stress leave at the time; a leave from which I would never return to active duty.

I tried to soldier on as best as I could, for as long as I could, along with downing increasing amounts of alcohol and prescription medication. I was “sucking it up,” as they say.

It’s not enough to say that officers who are having problems should come forward and alert their supervisors. The suffering officers have to trust the person they are opening up to and know that they will be treated with compassion and understanding, not treated dismissively or told that they are the cause of any problems they’re encountering.

This is one reason why some officers will go to great lengths to conceal their suffering (we get very good at it), including alcoholism, but there are always signs that some one is struggling. 

Are police command officers really concerned about the welfare of their officers, or are they just putting forward these mental health assistance programs to make it look like they actually care?

In my case, since my chief was one of my tormentors, and my association president was another, who was I to turn to for help? I’d already made a complaint about my chief to his bosses, the Police Services Board, only to see it go nowhere, and with a narcissistic sociopath for an association president, one who refused to see that his and the chief’s behaviour were having a negative effect on me, I felt very alone. I was very alone.

I’ve learnt that when you are a member of a union/association, your career lives or dies by the union. If your union is incompetent and/or refuses to help, you are prohibited under current labour laws from seeking your own legal representation.

Looking back on it, I certainly did some self-sabotaging things, but I could also make a valid argument that a person who is silently suffering may not be making the best choices. Sometimes those bad choices are a cry for help, even subconsciously, like showing up for work with alcohol on your breath. While that may have been tolerated long ago, as long as you didn’t get stupid, it certainly isn’t now and all police officers these days know that.

Sometimes those choices have a tragic end.

I made the argument in a previous column that police supervisors shouldn’t immediately go the discipline route when encountering a “problem officer.”

I’ve heard some very troubling things surrounding the death of Constable Trainor, none of which I should talk about now as I don’t know what role, if any, they played in his death. Owen Sound Police is in charge of the investigation. I can only hope they release their findings.

Not every death can be prevented, but we still have to try. Police commanders and the rank-and-file officers just have to care enough.

Read other articles that I’ve written on this subject, stating here:

Sources: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/kitchener-waterloo/ontario-ptsd-awareness-day-post-traumatic-stress-disorder-1.5189690, https://kitchener.ctvnews.ca/police-identify-west-grey-officer-who-was-found-dead-near-mount-forest-1.4817454?fbclid=IwAR2YKjWiNK2RooBWn2TMmrFlX_5mahJCf3DPXrNp4oKuzEMAOEqjpEZaQFI, https://www.895thelake.ca/2018/08/23/man-arrested-for-sharing-intimate-photos, https://www.orangevilletoday.ca/2020/03/02/dufferin-area-responder-support-wants-to-spark-mental-health-conversation-in-first-responder-community-following-death-of-west-grey-police-officer-cory-trainor.

The Inside Story: Family blames Toronto police for officer's suicide (citynews.ca) – The death of Sgt. Richard “Bucky” Rogers.

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

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