Police officers and paramedics survey the area of a shooting in Fredericton, N.B. on Friday, August 10, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Keith Minchin

Officers may face stress injuries after deaths of colleagues, experts say

One expert said that in the aftermath of a traumatic event, police officers can develop operational stress injuries, especially those who have seen both colleagues and friends killed in the line of duty

Four years after Justin Bourque’s Moncton shooting rampage that killed three RCMP constables, police officers in New Brunswick are facing a new traumatic event that may have long-lasting psychological consequences, experts warn.

On Friday morning in the province’s capital, police constables Robb Costello and Sara Burns were shot and killed while responding to a call at an apartment complex. Bobbie Lee Wright, 32, and her boyfriend, Donnie Robichaud, were also killed by alleged gunman Matthew Vincent Raymond, who has been charged with four counts of first-degree murder.

One expert said that in the aftermath of a traumatic event, police officers can develop operational stress injuries (OSI), especially those who have seen both colleagues and friends killed in the line of duty.

“It is important to understand that behind the badge, we have a human being,” said Katy Kamkar, a clinical psychologist with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto.

CAMH defines an OSI is any persistent psychological difficulty resulting from operational duties such as law enforcement, combat or any other service-related duties.

“We run away from trauma while (police officers) go towards it to face it,” said Kamkar, who is also director of the Badge For Life Canada, an organization that provides support for police and corrections personnel dealing with psychological injuries.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is one of the main OSI experienced by officers, she said, but other results of exposure to traumatic events can include emotional, physical and cognitive responses that are not necessarily recognized as PTSD.

“We need to have an awareness and appreciation for other very known mental health conditions that officers might face such as depression and anxiety disorder,” she said.

Related: Two officers killed in New Brunswick shooting identified

Related: Judge convicts RCMP in Moncton massacre

Canada had its first national survey looking at operational stress injuries among first responders published in 2017 in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry.

Of the 5,813 first responders who participated in the survey, 44.5 per cent “screened positive for clinically significant symptom clusters consistent with one or more mental disorders,” while Statistics Canada reported the rate for the general population at about 10 per cent.

“It is clear that police officers and other first responders are more likely to experience psychological and physical health concerns than the regular population,” said Kamkar. “Very frequently, if not almost every day, they can go through traumatic events.”

Police officers are the second most likely in Canada to be slain on the job, after taxi drivers, suggests a Statistics Canada study released in 2010 that looks at police officers who were killed in the line of duty.

Between 1961 and 2009, 133 police officers were killed in the line of duty in Canada, the study revealed, but that figure does not include other causes of death such as collisions involving police cruisers.

Incidents such as the shooting in Fredericton and the Moncton shooting in June 2014 “cause police officers to reflect on their career,” said Tom Stamatakis, director of the Canadian Police Association.

For some officers it might mean the potential risks of being involved in these kinds of incidents becomes too significant to continue in policing, he said, adding that everyone reacts differently and that some won’t realize the emotional affects for a long time.

Kamkar emphasized that it is normal for both police officers and civilians to experience emotional responses such as nightmares and increased irritabilityafter going through a traumatic event such as a shooting.

However, if they continue or increase over time, interfering with day-to-day life, it is important to seek professional help, she said.

“Services now have to move to a model where there are regular interventions,” said Stamatakis, mentioning that it takes away the stigma of having to ask for help and might reveal problems that officers face earlier on.

“I think that there is an acceptance that there is an issue and that we need to manage it,” he said.

Gabriele Roy, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Family of Chilliwack pilot killed in Honduras crash creates memorial scholarship fund

Parents, sister of Patrick Forseth fundraising to pay to send aspiring pilots to flight school

COLUMN: Search for Grace shows community’s true nature

As Chilliwack searches for missing woman, a writer looks back 61 years at a similar story

Serious police incident unfolding at Sts’ailes

Small reserve near Agassiz surrounded by police vehicles, helicopter, ERT

Weapons, drugs, cash, vehicles seized from downtown Chilliwack house

July 5 raid at Princess Avenue address led to one arrest and charges so far

OPINION: Victims too often pushed aside in B.C.’s criminal justice system

What do the complainants in criminal cases want to see done? No one is asking

VIDEO: Wet weather kicks off Lower Mainland toad migration

Thousands of small western toads were making the trek from pond to woods

Olympic softball qualifier gets $150K boost from provincial government

2019 Americas Qualifier to be held in Surrey from Aug. 25-Sept. 1

Gas price inquiry questions Trans Mountain capacity, company denies collusion

The first of up to four days of oral hearings in the inquiry continue in Vancouver

‘Benzos’ and fentanyl a deadly cocktail causing a growing concern on B.C. streets

Overdoses caused by benzodiazepines can’t be reversed with opioid-overdose antidote naloxone

RCMP release sketch of suspect in SFU assault, appeal to witnesses who helped woman

The RCMP want to talk to two women who helped the victim after she got to the parking lot

Will you be celebrating national hotdog day with any of these crazy flavours?

The popularity of hotdogs spans generations, cultures

Former home of accused Penticton shooter vandalized

Ex-wife of man who is accused of murdering four people had her house vandalized

Survivor of near-drowning in B.C. lake viewing life through new eyes

“If I died that day, the baby wouldn’t know his dad,” said 31-year-old Mariano Santander-Melo.

‘Beyond the call’: Teen in police custody gets birthday surprise by B.C. Mountie

Unusual celebration started when Staff Sgt. Paul Vadik went to visit the teen in his Coquitlam cell

Most Read