At the conclusion of a recent tense situation, a man who had been threatening suicide reached for a Sault Ste. Marie police officer and received something many may not have expected — a hug.
The officer dealing with the distressed man — Const. Dave Doucette — has been recognized by Robert Keetch, chief of the Sault Ste. Marie Police Service (SSMPS), for his act of compassion.
“Saving someone’s life — I can’t think of anything more rewarding for an officer to do,” said Keetch.
Doucette — a 19-year veteran with the SSMPS — was recognized with a Chief’s Coin, a token given by the chief to recognize officers and people in the community who go above and beyond for the betterment of the community.
Just over 80 of the Chief’s Coins have been given out since the program was introduced in 2011.
“The opportunity to give a chief’s coin to recognize some of the special work that our officers do in the community in pursuit of their duties — and in many instances, above and beyond — it’s just a small token of appreciation I can offer out of my office to recognize individual officers,” said Keetch.
Doucette joined the police service’s Critical Response Team about one month ago, after spending the previous two and a half years as a high school liaison officer and 11 years in the Emergency Services Unit.
The act of compassion Doucette showed that day is something he says police officers exhibit on a daily basis, but it often goes unrecognized.
“The situation I was placed into that day had somebody who was in a state of crisis. We dealt with the situation and I was able to get him to come with me. At that time he reached out for a hug — it’s something officers do every day,” said Doucette.
The Critical Response Team consists of two officers — one who works the day shift and a second officer who works the afternoon shift and is partnered with a Sault Area Hospital crisis worker.
When a call for service involving a mental health issue is made, the Critical Response Team attend the scene and assess the situation.
The team determines whether an individual requires admission to the Sault Area Hospital, or if they can be referred to other services like community counselling.
Keetch said the program — in partnership with Algoma Public Health, Sault Area Hospital and Canadian Mental Health Association — has been a great success.
The program was deemed necessary because calls for service involving mental health have risen sharply in recent years — SSMPS statistics show a 100-per-cent increase in those calls over a five-year period.
Sgt. Rob Gioia, who oversees the Critical Response Team, said an increase in hard drug use is partially to blame for the recent spike in mental health calls.
“Now you’re looking at a myriad of really bad drugs — methamphetamine, speed, heroin, cocaine — this is stuff you didn’t see 20-plus years ago. That has a profound effect when it comes to mental health with people,” said Gioia.
“That said, there is also more of an awareness when it comes to the mental health aspect as well. There’s more of an awareness and more training when it comes to dealing with,” those calls, he added.
In 2012, SSMPS attended 58 calls for service in which a person threatened to commit suicide. In 2014, that number increased to 213.
Despite the spike in calls for service involving threats of suicide, the coroner's office notes 19 deaths by suicide in 2012, while in 2014 there were 13 classified as such.
Doucette did not report to his superior officers that he had hugged the distressed man during the incident, but police heard about the act from SooToday, which was on scene at the time.
SooToday made the decision not to publish a photo of the hug between the officer and the man in distress, but recounted the scene to the officer in charge of media relations, who passed the story along to Doucette’s supervisors and finally to the chief himself.
“I was touched and extremely proud when I read (the report) of this incident and the actions taken by Const. Doucette. It just speaks volumes about who he is as a person and for what we do in the community,” said Keetch.
Without the report by SooToday, Keetch said Doucette's effort would likely have gone unrecognized.
The chief noted Doucette volunteers as a youth hockey coach, which also may not be recognized by the public at large.
“That is typical of a lot of our officers. They do work outside of their regular police duties when they are being paid, that are having an impact on the community or with our local youth or volunteering on boards,” said Keetch.
Gioia said he consulted with the chief and they decided the act was worthy of a Chief’s Coin.
“It was my opinion and the chief’s opinion it should be recognized,” said Gioia.
Doucette said the hug was not an extraordinary act and that fellow officers show compassion each and every day.
“The public doesn’t see it. I see it as an officer,” he said.
Doucette said it was nice to be recognized for hugging the man in distress, but feels the honour should be shared with the entire police service.
“I want my fellow officers to know I am accepting it for all of us, because I see (compassion) on a regular basis. I can’t emphasize that enough,” said Doucette