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Letter: Police chief responds to PTSD concerns, says position 'misinterpreted'

Chief says he does not see officers with PTSD as a 'burden'
20171130-Sault Police Chief Robert Keetch-DT
Police Chief Robert Keetch is pictured in this SooToday file photo

SooToday received the following letter to the editor from Police Chief Robert Keetch, In it, Keetch responds to comments in an earlier letter from Bruce Chapman, president of the Police Association of Ontario:

I am writing to address your recent letter to SooToday, and the unfortunate statements you made about me in the article entitled Ontario law could hurt policing costs, Ontario law could hurt policing costs, Chief says published on January 25, 2018.

Darren Taylor of SooToday was reporting on discussions between the Police Services Board (PSB) and myself during our monthly meeting where I reviewed the 2017 police service budget specifically relating to overtime costs.

I identified several factors which impacted our overtime costs over the last year, which had risen significantly. These included the creation of a specialized break and enter unit, our new partnership with our local hospital regarding mental health calls for service, several major crime investigations, internal scheduling and staffing challenges, and accommodating officers due to various medical issues.

I explained to the PSB that there was an increase in officers being diagnosed with PTSD under the new presumptive legislation, and that the numbers were expected to rise in the future as awareness increased and more staff members would seek out medical treatment. I also pointed out that it would be difficult, from a financial perspective, to plan for it.

I was merely fulfilling my obligation to the PSB and identified that the new legislation would have an impact on the budget.

In your letter you wrote:

It was unfortunate to have read over the weekend that Robert Keetch, Sault Ste. Marie Police Service Chief, believes the Sault Ste. Marie police services budget’s bottom line is of greater importance than the mental health of his local officers recovering from PTSD.

Darren Taylor quoted me as saying:

"We would budget for the individual to be present and work the 2,080 hours in a year, but we wouldn’t budget for that administrative cost (with WSIB) because it would be unanticipated.”

“It’s going to have an adverse impact on the bottom line because it’s very difficult to predict the future and how many officers will potentially be off because of PTSD"

I am uncertain where you got the impression that I believe that the police services budget’s ‘bottom line’ is ‘of greater importance than the mental health’ of my officers recovering from PTSD.

In your letter, you also said:

It is well known that many individuals experiencing PTSD suffer in silence and don’t ask for assistance. When exposure to traumatic events impact an officer’s health and well-being, they need to know they have the support of their colleagues, police service and professional Associations to seek help – they should never feel they are a burden by their Chief.

Again, I believe you misinterpreted what I said. The newspaper article, at no time, made any suggestion that I saw individuals experiencing PTSD as a ‘burden’. The opening statement specifically says: 'While expressing sympathy for those suffering from work-related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Robert Keetch, Sault Ste. Marie Police Service chief, said new Ontario legislation could have a negative effect on the service’s operating costs.'

I am also disappointed in what your final statement insinuates. When you say 'by openly calling for the removal of police services professionals who are living with PTSD, we risk increasing the stigma and shame.'

Do you believe I would support such a practice?

I have been in policing for 36 years, and I too have dedicated my life to protecting communities. I am well aware of the risks involved with the profession, and particularly of the mental health issues that can develop as a result of traumatic or stressful events, such as, but not limited to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

In 2015, prior to the passing of Bill 163, Supporting Ontario’s First Responders Act, I attended a meeting with executive members of the Sault Ste. Marie Police Association, the leader of the Opposition, as well as several Members of Provincial Parliament (MPP). Though the discussions we had, I articulated my strong support for any proposed presumptive legislation regarding post-traumatic stress disorder for first responders.

None of the comments made by me to the PSB or anyone else regarding Bill 163 were ever negative in nature. As Chief of the Sault Ste. Marie Police Service, and before that as an Inspector with the Greater Sudbury Police Service, I have put a lot of effort into supporting members of my services and communities with regards to overall health and well-being, and specifically to address the issue of PTSD.

My police service has provided “Road to Mental Readiness” (R2MR) training to all of our staff, and has allowed them to confidentially access a clinical social worker and the police service’s Psychologist to support their physical and mental well-being in addition to their negotiated benefits afforded through their collective agreement. In partnership with the city, our local fire department and ambulance service, we have also implemented, trained and established a “Peer-to-Peer” support model to provide timely identification of traumatic events and effective intervention/referral of affected staff to qualified medical professionals for help.

I agree with your conclusion that we should always support our police services professionals who are living with PTSD and their road to better health. The Sault Ste. Marie Police Service takes the responsibility of all of its employee’s health and well-being seriously. We have implemented several programs to increase awareness, identify situations requiring effective intervention and facilitate timely referrals to qualified medical professions.

I feel that it is unfortunate that you have made your comments and distributed your letter without first reaching out to me to discuss the situation. I invite you to read the original article again and I hope I have clarified its intent and purpose.

I appreciate that you have a responsibility to represent your members of the Police Association of Ontario. I have a similar responsibility to a Police Services Board and community for the provision of adequate and effective policing services. I believe there is always the opportunity for improvement. Mutual respect and dialogue between police associations and management surrounding these types’ issues is critical to effectively addressing them. These type of conversations need to take place in person and not be facilitated through the voice of the media to eliminate the possibility of misinterpreting the facts and jumping to the wrong conclusions.

Together, we have a shared responsibility for ensuring the overall health and well-being of all our members.

Robert A. Keetch
Chief of Police