TORONTO — Medical leave taken by Ontario Provincial Police officers with post-traumatic stress disorder is contributing significantly to understaffing at detachments across the province and affecting service levels, the auditor general has found.
In her annual report released Wednesday, Bonnie Lysyk said that in 2020 more than 1,000 front-line constable positions were vacant – about a quarter of all such positions in the OPP.
There are several types of leave, Lysyk noted, including parental leave, but the increase in vacancies is driven by employees off due to Workplace Safety and Insurance Board claims – that number jumped 364 per cent between 2015 and 2020.
"The increasing number of OPP officers filing WSIB claims for PTSD and other mental health injuries is symptomatic of an ongoing issue related to officer mental health and stress," Lysyk wrote in the report.
Ontario Provincial Police Association president Rob Stinson said he's glad the report acknowledged the problem, because it has been going on for a long time.
"You can't run with 1,000 members short," he said.
"The population in my patrol area doubled and the number of officers was down 60 per cent … It just doesn't make sense."
The government has made great strides in recent years addressing mental health in policing, Stinson said, including with the announcement of a health and wellness centre for first responders, and a round-the-clock triage line. But what is really needed to address the shortage is simply hiring more officers, he said.
A spokesman for Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said the government took swift action to support the mental health and well-being of police by ordering an independent review of the OPP’s workplace culture.
More than 70 per cent of the review's recommendations are being implemented, Stephen Warner said in a statement, including the hiring of 200 new OPP officers to assist with PTSD-related vacancies.
The government's most recent budget put $12.5 million over three years toward mental-health services for the OPP.
WSIB claims by OPP employees led to $42.7 million in costs and 11,037 days of leave in 2020, the auditor's report said.
The understaffing has also led to higher overtime costs, increasing from $32 million in 2015-16 to $36 million in 2019-20, the report found.
"We question the sustainability of the rapidly rising financial costs, declining front-line officers in local communities, and effects on employee well-being caused by traumatic stress at the OPP," the report said.
"We noted the OPP had not performed any analysis to project how much the financial cost and vacancies associated with traumatic stress would continue to rise over the coming years, or whether these effects could be mitigated."
The staffing shortages led to 28 per cent fewer hours of patrols, and 26 municipalities received less than half of the hours of policing services they needed, the report found.
The audit also found that regions with higher vacancies of front-line officers resolve fewer crimes.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 1, 2021.
Allison Jones, The Canadian Press