Holding the Line
Re-integration after a critical incident or long-term leave
Our firearms as police officers are significant pieces of our culture and what we do. It is hard at times not to allow it to define us, especially when it is unexpectedly removed after an incident involving a shooting for example. What is the message we receive when, after having discharged our firearm in an incident, we are ushered into a room, secluded and stripped of our firearm? There is good reason for this of course, as the firearm that was used may need to be tested and forensically investigated, but the experience and chronology of its removal can be very challenging.
By Michelle Vincent
I had the opportunity to attend Edmonton Police Service’s (EPS) “Workplace Re-integration After a Critical Incident” course back in November. EPS has a phenomenal program that strives to keep their police officers safe from operational stress injury by minimizing the mental health impact of a firearm removal. This mandatory program is geared towards re-integrating the member into their unit — with their new firearm — after a critical incident. Such incidents can be the cause of post-traumatic stress injury and operational stress injury (these terms are often used interchangeably) as well as other mental health issues, like anxiety. All mental health issues have the potential to leave a significant impact on workplace confidence and attendance.
The EPS program involves members from the training unit with specific critical incident stress management skillsets. These gifted men and women are handpicked to deliver a very powerful, highly sensitive program that explores the potential residual effects of a critical incident through a step-by-step program involving therapy and basic firearms training.
This program has been highly successful in preventing serious mental health issues as well as building the confidence of the affected member in the use of their firearm through a customized program that is delivered at the member’s personal pace.
Losing one’s firearm doesn’t just happen in regards to critical incidents. Leaves, such as maternity/parental leave, or an injury — whether it is physical or mental — may require a member to give up their firearm for a period of time. Similarly, this can cause a member to be anxious or even avoidant of returning to work. This is another instance where EPS shines, as it strives to support members who may have otherwise been anxious and even lost in the return-to-work process.
What impacted me the most about this outstanding program is the way the various teams come together for a common goal: seeing the affected member return to work in a mentally healthy, meaningful way. It’s all about a smooth transition.
EPS says its program has almost eliminated reports of PTSD as a result of workplace injury. It’s also seen the return of some members who have been off on long-term disability. In Alberta, the health care provider Morneau, Workers Compensation Board, policing organization and the members all work together to see the member return to work in the fullest capacity possible after a critical incident or long-term leave. There are no egos involved; just the best supports, treatment and effective workplace re-integration.
That being said, it is not perfect and there are disagreements, however they have come a long way in how they address mental health in the workplace.
This is the second time I have attended this course and once again the EPS officers who supported our learning inspired us to bring this powerful, lifesaving program back to our own services. We had several members of varying rank from organizations across the country attend and I can say I’m pretty sure we all left with an energized drive to do more.
If you have a passion for mental health and training branch/CISM (Critical Incident Stress Management) experience, I highly recommend this program. It will change how you do business and empower your members with confidence through a strong message that your organization cares.
Michelle Vincent is a 15-year York Regional Police officer with a Masters Degree in Arts in Counselling Psychology and a background in equine assisted therapy, workplace reintegration and teaching. Her counselling practice is supervised by a psychologist with a specialty in addictions and trauma. She can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.