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City police dispute councillor's PTSD comments

'Currently, the North Bay Police Service has 18 per cent of its sworn officers off work while they receive treatment for PTSD'
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North Bay Police Service

North Bay Police Chief Scott Tod is taking offense to comments made by Councillor Mark King during a council meeting, that 2.5 per cent of the municipal tax increase in the City's 2023 budget is caused by police officers being off work to receive treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

"This statement is inaccurate," says a news release issued Thursday afternoon.

"The increase to the North Bay Police Service’s budget is primarily the result of the necessary hiring of new officers in 2022 and 2023 as well as the creation of new positions internally that support front-line officers during criminal investigations," adds the release. "The hiring of these officers was motivated in large part by consultations with the public, who clearly stated their desire for more officers in North Bay to deal with pressing public concerns about crime, addiction, and mental health. Price inflation for necessary goods such as fuel, uniforms, training, and insurance also contributed to the 2023 budget increase. Many police services across Ontario have requested higher-than-average budget increases this year to deal with the pressing issues of crime and public safety."

Currently, the North Bay Police Service has 18 per cent of its sworn officers off work while they receive treatment for PTSD. The release did not put a dollar figure on what that costs the department each year

"The 18 per cent accounts for 20 officers currently off work for the treatment of PTSD out of a complement of 111 sworn officers," spokesman David Woolley told BayToday.

"This is a large number of officers away from work, but it is not the highest rate in the province; many other police services in Ontario have a high rate of officers off work receiving treatment for PTSD," says the statement.

“Ensuring that our members are healthy and supported as they work to ensure the safety of the people of North Bay remains my top priority,” said North Bay Chief of Police Scott Tod. “The stressful and potentially traumatic situations our members face on a daily basis inevitably result in some requiring treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I am glad that we, as a police service, are doing our part to reduce the stigma around receiving mental health treatment by increasing the supports we provide our members to assist them in recovery. It is disappointing and disheartening to see incorrect statements about our members who are receiving treatment for PTSD become part of the public conversation. These factually inaccurate statements only further the stigma around mental health.”

But King defends himself by saying his statements are based on comments reported in the Police Association of Ontario magazine quoting Vincent Corrente, President of the North Bay Police Association.

King points to a story featuring North Bay. "NBPS has a higher percentage of members out of the workplace on approved  WSIB Operational Stress Injury Claims leave than most other services, which is causing burnout amongst the active members," says the magazine.

"We're not unique in dealing with the problems of being understaffed and trying to get proper support for our members with mental health problems, but where we are unique is the percentage of people we have off, especially on the sworn side," said Corrente. "With about 22 members off right now we're at over 20 per cent of members who are off work; the majority because of PTSD-related issues. That's a pretty high percentage for a small service like us. Plus very few come back once they're off.

"I think part of the reason is we just don't have enough support systems in place. And we haven't for years," Corrente is quoted as saying.

King adds that "My statement is based on fact. There's no question that the increased cost to the operating budget of the city by the police service was 2.5 per cent. That's just what it is. I certainly understand the situation that they are in with respect to their staffing levels and trying to control crime in the city."

The release places part of the blame on new legislation.

"Police services across the province saw an increase in members off work to receive treatment for PTSD after the Ontario legislature passed the Supporting Ontario's First Responders Act in 2016," explains the police news release. "A key provision of the Act was the presumption that PTSD diagnosed in first responders was work-related. This ensures that police officers and other first responders receive faster access to WSIB benefits, as well as PTSD support resources and treatment. While staffing challenges have arisen since the passage of the Act as a result of the increase in officers off work to receive treatment, ultimately this is a positive development as it ensures officers are receiving treatment for PTSD that prior to the passage of the Act may have gone untreated," continues the release.

“Members of the North Bay Police Service are exposed to trauma of varying degrees on a daily basis," said Vincent Corrente, in a written statement.

"Our members may be exposed to more trauma over a week than many residents of this city will see in a lifetime. Yet, our members do their best to conduct themselves with dignity, professionalism, and compassion every day in service to the community they are proud to serve. Unfortunately, job-related trauma is cumulative and some of our members reach their breaking point where they need to step away to get the appropriate treatment. Prioritizing your mental health and dealing with the effects of PTSD is a difficult step for many to take. All of us should do our part to change the conversation so that we support members who take that step rather than reinforce the negative stigma for those suffering from a serious mental health issue.”

The police service has hired a Wellness Navigator. She started in February.and is responsible for ensuring members receive appropriate mental and physical health support while on and off duty.

Jeff Turl

About the Author: Jeff Turl

Jeff is a veteran of the news biz. He's spent a lengthy career in TV, radio, print and online, covering both news and sports. He enjoys free time riding motorcycles and spoiling grandchildren.
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