Ontario’s chief coroner launching panel to review suicides of nine police officers

Ontario’s chief coroner launching panel to review suicides of nine police officers
WATERLOO REGION—Ontario’s chief coroner is launching an expert panel to review the suicides of nine police officers in 2018, including an officer from the Waterloo Regional Police.

“I’m going to identify experts that would deal with mental wellness, deal with operational stress injury, deal with health and wellness within a police service — so bring experts from all of those different groups to convene a diverse panel,” Dr. Dirk Huyer told The Record Thursday.

The panel has yet to be selected, but members will be presented with the cases of all nine officers. They will look for trends and commonalities to determine whether there were potential points of prevention or intervention, said Huyer.

“Ultimately, our job is to help prevent further deaths,” he said.

Information about the officers, gleaned from family, health and employment records, along with information from the police services involved, will be examined.

The panel will also look at the mental health strategies in place at the police services that employed the officers.

“Are the strategies solid? Because if the strategies are solid, then is there a reason that they’re not getting the help that is available to them?” said Huyer.

While the coroner will not disclose the names of the officers or the police services that will be subject to the expert panel review, he confirmed that one of the nine officers was with Waterloo Regional Police.

Huyer said he has contacted all of the police services affected.

“From a first responder perspective, my hope is that, because we’re doing it Ontario-wide, and we’re looking broadly across for systemic apporaches to wellness of police service providers, I think it will have a provincial effect … and have a potential benefit” to members of all police services and first responders in the province, Huyer told the Star.

On Thursday, Waterloo Regional Police Chief Bryan Larkin confirmed he’s spoken with the chief coroner about the review.

“We fully support and welcome a review that will help determine how mental health support can be better provided to first responders,” Larkin said in a statement. “We look forward to the review’s findings and we are hopeful this review will result in greater awareness and more discussion concerning mental illness.”

Huyer said all nine deceased officers were active members or “very” recently retired, and they are believed to be the only officer deaths by suicide in the province for all of 2018.

“That’s a significant number; it’s far greater than we have seen in many years,” said Huyer, adding that over the past five years, there’s generally been fewer than five suicides per year.

The coroner’s expert panel will publish its findings and recommendations in a report Huyer expects to be completed by the summer. The report will be made public, although the families of the deceased officers will decide if the officers will be identified.

Huyer said the decision to launch the panel was spurred by the high number of suicides among officers, along with the decision by the Ontario Provincial Police to launch an internal review into suicides and attempted suicides involving its members over the past five years.

The OPP review, which will try to identify what is preventing officers with mental health issues from seeking help, was launched after three OPP officers died by suicide within a three-week period last summer.

Sgt. Sylvain Routhier, Det. Insp. Paul Horne, and Const. Joshua De Bock of the Wellington County OPP died by suicide, the OPP said in August.
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