EDMONTON — It’s their job to serve and protect and Edmonton’s top cop says this year has been extremely tough on police officers.
“If I was to use one word it would be tired. If you talk to everybody, they’re tired,” Police Chief Rod Knecht said in a year-end interview with Global News. “I would say collectively, everybody is just a little tired and looking for some level of relief.”
Between January and June, five law enforcement members were shot in the Edmonton-area, two of them fatally.
RCMP Const. David Wynn was shot while investigating a stolen vehicle call in St. Albert in January. Wynn never regained consciousness. His family made the decision to take him off life support a few days later.
EPS Const. Daniel Woodall was gunned down in the line of duty in west Edmonton in June.
“That was the first six months of the year and I thought, ‘oh my lord what have we got ahead of us?,'” Sgt. Maurice Brodeur, president of the Edmonton Police Association said Thursday. “It’s been a bad year. Very trying. A lot of violence towards police… There’s violence towards our officers every day. Every day.”
“When I first joined policing they used to say, ‘oh, you guys have it easier. It was harder in my day.’ It’s reversed. We don’t say that any more.”
In a plea to city council for increased funding earlier this year, Knecht said there have been close to 12,000 additional calls for service this year compared to last. He also said there’s been an 11.1 per cent increase in violent crime in Edmonton.
Brodeur said an average call takes up about 90 minutes of an officers’ time, and the resources simply aren’t there.
“What’s trying is to see a call on the board sit there for hours, maybe try to get there two to three times in a night, but then a higher priority—and every call is a priority, don’t get me wrong—but maybe a stabbing comes in or a domestic violence and then (police) are halfway to this call and you’re waiting,” Brodeur said.
The stresses of the job do take their toll on police. Dr. Nicholas Carleton, with the University of Regina’s Psychology Department, treats police officers with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in Saskatchewan. He believes police are dealing with more stress now than ever before, and they’re encountering more complex threats.
“They are being tasked to do more and more in many cases with less and less. This is creating an additional layer of complexity for their mental health,” Carleton said.
Urging something must be done, Carleton said there needs to be more resources in place to ensure a better work/life balance for officers. He believes everyone should be worried about their mental health.
“I certainly think that we owe them a great deal of credit for being able to push through that. At the same time, I think that we need to be careful not to take that for granted because they really do need the support in order to provide us with the safety and security that we’ve all come to depend on.”
There are resources in place to help officers. Brodeur said the refreshing thing is police are not afraid to ask for help.
“This generation is very switched on. They know they should seek help and they seek help and they’re not embarrassed by that. Kudos to them,” he said.
“Police lives matter, right? I’ll throw it out there,” Brodeur said. “We should not be seen as the enforcement tool of the establishment. We’re also men and women, moms and dads, brothers and sisters, parents. And we’re just trying to do a tough job.”
The death of Const. Daniel Woodall in June was a huge hit to police officers, both Brodeur and Knecht said. But what was amazing to see, they said, was the way the community rallied around law enforcement members. From a kind word to thousands of blue ribbons, Edmontonians came together to let police officers know they’re appreciated.
“It was, I would say, a very humbling and emotional experience for certainly me and the entire Edmonton Police Service. It was extraordinary to get that kind of support and it actually makes you want to do your job more and better,” Knecht said.
What police need, is for that support to continue throughout the year.
“If you see a police officer, take a couple steps out of your way and thank them for their service,” Brodeur said. “It means a lot to them, you have no idea. When something like that happens they tell everybody.”
“Hopefully our collective 2016 resolution will be to better stand on guard for all of those who stand on guard so often for all of us,” Carleton added.
During budget deliberations the police chief asked city council for a funding increase of more than $20 million over the next three years, including an increase of 24 officers. Council approved an $8.79 million increase, which police said will result in the hiring of six or seven new officers.
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