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Victoria police officers report work culture, mental health challenges as top concerns

The Victoria Police Department headquarters is shown: April 12, 2019. (CTV Vancouver Island) The Victoria Police Department headquarters is shown: April 12, 2019. (CTV Vancouver Island)
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An internal Victoria police study identified mental health and workplace conditions as top concerns for officers and civilian staff working in the police department.

A 10-page executive summary of the study, called the Mental Health and Wellbeing Project, found that many officers and civilian workers described workplace culture as "toxic," "negative," and "micro-managed."

The study found that bullying and harassment were not the main causes of mental health stress for most workers. Instead, many felt like much of the stress occurred because the department was seemingly unconcerned about the toll the job had on the mental health of staff.

Many also felt like their input was not factored into decisions – and was perhaps penalized instead – by upper levels of the organization.

"Civilians and officers often feel treated as a 'resource' rather than as people," reads the report.

The study also found that most officers and civilian staff, roughly 70 per cent, felt reluctant to disclose mental health challenges out of fear that it would hurt their career.

However, many officers did feel comfortable speaking to their immediate supervisor and their peers about mental health concerns, the report says.

Overall, the top five concerns officers and civilian staff identified were workload, internal politics, lack of support from municipal council, the demands of frontline policing, and oversight.

IMMEDIATE NEED

As of October, 52 officers – or about 20 per cent of the workforce – were on administrative leave, many because of mental health challenges.

The report also found that officers who were on leave "often felt isolated and forgotten about."

With dozens of officers on leave, the report says that patrol shifts are struggling to maintain minimum staffing levels.

For those who continue to work, 22 per cent of officers and 24 per cent of civilians reported having clinical symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The report suggests that steps need to be taken to improve supports for staff that are living with PTSD as soon as possible.

"Their needs should be tended to immediately," reads the study.

RECOMMENDATIONS

The report recommends several changes be made to improve workplace culture, including creating an annual mandatory psychological visit, ensuring mental health and well-being programs are accessible to officers, and fostering an environment where staff can share their concerns "without fear of reprisal or affecting their opportunities for promotion and success in the department," among many other recommendations.

The report adds that changes should be made with input from all levels of staff.

Officials with the police department say they are still reviewing the results of the study, which was commissioned by VicPD and the Victoria City Police Union.

"We welcome the information gathered in this report as it will inform ways in which we can improve our workplace culture and help our people meet the challenges of our current operational environment," reads a statement from Victoria Police Chief Del Manak and president of the Victoria Police Union, Len Hollingsworth.

"We’re grateful for the willingness of officers and civilian staff to share their insights through this survey and focus group discussions," said the pair. "Gathering honest reflections from our team is a critical step in developing strategies to support the health and well-being of our staff."

Manak and Hollingsworth's full statement can be read below:

The Mental Health and Wellbeing Project was sponsored by both the Victoria City Police Union and VicPD and in an effort to gain key insights into the mental health and well-being of officers and civilian employees in the department. We welcome the information gathered in this report as it will inform ways in which we can improve our workplace culture and help our people meet the challenges of our current operational environment.

We’re grateful for the willingness of officers and civilian staff to share their insights through this survey and focus group discussions. Gathering honest reflections from our team is a critical step in developing strategies to support the health and well-being of our staff. We are currently encouraging all staff to review the report as we begin the process of reflecting upon the results and reviewing the recommendations. As for any public release of the survey findings, the Victoria Police Department had not published these survey findings as we are still reviewing the document to determine its suitability for public release. If, over the next few weeks, it is deemed appropriate to publish the findings, we will make sure that is done as widely and transparently as possible. 

The text of the report's executive summary follows.

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