Municipalities encouraged to focus on employee wellness
Police officers across Ontario are burning out, and the Police Association of Ontario (PAO) is calling on municipalities to take action.
Personnel are increasingly being asked to work more overtime hours or come in on their days off. Additionally, the population continues to rise in communities across the province but police staffing levels are not increasing at the same rate, says the PAO.
“The health and wellness of our members affects so much — community safety, officer safety, delivery of the services we perform,” said Bruce Chapman, president of the PAO, which has 18,000 members. “No one wants to see officer burnout because it leads to so many other issues.”
The PAO is encouraging municipalities across the province to focus on employee wellness. Some police services have created a quiet room for rest and are ensuring the officers take their lunch breaks and have sufficient time to decompress between calls.
“It’s so they are able to comprehend what they just went through and ensure that they are healthy in their mind so they are able to go to the next job,” said Chapman. “Employers are starting to recognize that… They are taking steps to ensure their employees are looked after.”
In some collective agreements, police unions have taken less money to ensure the wellness of its members, such as getting more benefits coverage for psychological care.
In addressing burnout, scheduling is one of the most important aspects. It’s crucial that the officers have eight hours of time off between shifts, so that they can be fully aware and awake, Chapman says.
“Gone are the days of working a midnight shift then going to court all day because the judicial system requires you to do it and then going back on working another midnight,” he notes.
If police officer burnout is not addressed, it can lead to a host of other problems, both physical and emotional, said Chapman, citing relationship discord, depression, anxiety and substance abuse as examples.
“The effects of burnout can lead to a vast variety of other problems going forward if it’s not recognized and not dealt with from the ground up.”
The PAO is so concerned about officer burnout that it has made the topic one of its strategic priorities for the upcoming year. Fortunately, more focus has been put on the health and wellness of officers since the presumptive legislation for post-traumatic stress disorder for first responders came into effect in 2016. Also, the “suck it up mentality” is gone amongst police forces, Chapman says.
“With the Millennials, we had the change in guard with the young people who recognize the importance of a work-life balance and ensuring that we have that.”