WARNING: This story discusses self-harm
Like other first responders, RCMP officers in the Lower Mainland may encounter disturbing and traumatic incidents in the course of their duties.
Those can include everything from fatal car accidents and house fires, to the aftermath of violent crimes.
An incident in Langley, in which an off-duty Surrey Police Service (SPS) officer took his own life at a gun range, while RCMP were in the building, is putting some attention on this part of the job.
Over the last several years, the RCMP in the region have created a new peer-based team to help officers and civilian staff who have to deal with traumatic events.
The Proactive Support Response Team (PSRT) had its first training session in the fall of 2021, said Cpl. Glen Shippit, one of the group’s members.
His regular duties for the Langley RCMP are working in plainclothes for the detachment’s General Investigative Services (GIS) unit. He and his colleagues look into crimes including bank robbery.
As part of the PSRT, he’s on call when there’s been a major incident that may have left RCMP members, dispatchers, and civilian transcriptionists traumatized.
READ MORE: VIDEO: Off-duty police officer dies in incident at Langley gun range
“In my opinion, this is going to change the way the RCMP is dealing with members mental wellness,” Shippit said of the PSRT approach.
The team meets with those affected after the event, but they don’t directly talk about it.
“It’s not about the event, it’s about how we’re feeling post-event,” he said.
The 48 members who are involved in the PSRT unit are on call, and respond where they’re needed, with Langley members heading to other communities, and vice versa.
They have an immediate check-in with affected members and civilians after the incident, preferably in person but at the very least by phone, then organize a support session three to five days later.
They talk about coping mechanisms and how people are feeling.
The PSRT is an alternative to the previous system of critical incident debriefs, which involved a psychologist and addressed what had happened head-on.
That program helped, but it could run the risk of re-traumatizing people, Shippit said.
The new program also aims at being maximally inclusive. Previous programs didn’t take into account the many civilians who suppor the RCMP, from those taking the emergency calls to the clerical workers who might have to type out detailed reports of alarming and violent events. They also provide help for family members.
The older style of dealing with trauma encountered as a peace officer, before PSRT or critical incident debriefings, was often to simply bottle everything up.
Shippit said that “sucking it up” works – for a while.
“But when you break, you break hard.”
He compares trauma to liquid going into a cup. Eventually, that cup is going to overflow, often when you don’t want or expect it to.
Right now, the program is limited to the Lower Mainland, but Shippit was one of the officers sent to Prince Rupert for another major incident there.
If you feel like you are in crisis or are considering suicide, please call the Crisis Centre BC suicide hotline at 1-800-784-2433.
Other resources include: Canada Suicide Prevention Service at Toll free: 1-833-456-4566. You can also text 45645 or visit the online chat service at crisisservicescanada.ca.
Some warning signs include suicidal thoughts, anger, recklessness, mood changes, anxiety, lack of purpose, helplessness and substance use.
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