A woman who spent over 20 years with the Edmonton Police Service (EPS) spoke out on Thursday to say she received a lack of proper attention to her experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and that she experienced harassment as a result of it.
Nadine Swist, who retired from the EPS in 2015, appeared in front of the Edmonton Police Commission on Thursday afternoon where she detailed some of her claims.
“You know, for the first 20 years of my career… for the first portion of my career, it was a job that I would have done for free,” she said. “The last four years, you couldn’t pay me enough to do it.”
Swist told the commission she feels the EPS never sufficiently helped her deal with PTSD, a disorder she said she developed while trying to make an arrest in 2000. She said she was pulled into a suspect’s vehicle before being thrown from it as it was travelling at 90 kilometres an hour.
Swist said she “managed” her PTSD symptoms following her violent encounter and that she took leave when necessary and was able to shift to positions on the force that didn’t require her to wear a uniform, carry a gun or work in an atmosphere not conducive for someone suffering from PTSD. However, she said in 2014, the EPS began to push her to once again work in roles she says her doctors told her she wasn’t ready for, and she says their efforts amounted to harassment.
According to Swist, she filed a letter of resignation in 2015 in which she outlined her concerns about her treatment. She said she tried to rescind the letter within 24 hours but was told her resignation was final. She said she was also prevented from contacting human resources about the issue.
“Lots of people don’t believe PTSD is a real thing, I deal with that a lot of the time,” she said.
“Your body is in a constant state of nervousness… you’re the one with your back to the wall, you’re watching the room, you need to know everyone who is in front of you.”
Swist said she has heard the EPS say they only have three documented cases of PTSD on the force and suggested she finds the number shockingly low.
“Who could believe that to be possible?” she asked.
“Ignorance is bliss. Three cases of PTSD is ignorance… they say it as though it’s a badge of honour that there’s no PTSD, no mental illness, when in fact what they should be doing is reaching out to the people who suffer from the things, and offering help.”
According to Swist, her case has been passed on to Alberta Justice by the police commission and an investigation is expected to begin in March.
“The matter is under investigation,” Edmonton Police Rod Knecht acknowledged. “She’s made complaints. I understand she’s made complaints to the police commission and those are being dealt with. From what I understand, that’s gone through a second investigational body.
Knecht reiterated that to his knowledge, it is three EPS members who have been diagnosed with PTSD and that he is always looking for ways to better address the issue, but that he’s also satisfied with how the force currently deals with the issue.
“When I became the chief, I was impressed with what we do for employees and how we help employees that are in distress or have had traumatic incidences,” he said. “We have a very robust program, we invest heavily in it.
“We may change their duties (police officers), either by request or from a wellness perspective.”
According to Swist, she first filed a complaint with the police commission 625 days ago but has been frustrated by the lack of progress on her case. She said now that there are new people serving on the commission, she wants to tell them about her case to prompt action. She said the commission needs to act with more expedience so people mentioned in her claims don’t retire before they’re acted upon.
“It’s hard to hold them accountable,” Swist said. “I want the commission to not accept the chief’s statement that there were only three post-traumatic stress disorder situations within the police service. I want the police commission to make the chief accountable.
“It’s not the people of the police service in general, who are doing this. It’s the chief and it’s his direction.”
Swist also blasted the EPS for a workplace culture she says is intimidating to women.
“The EPS is absolutely not tolerant of members that are female, and especially members who suffer PTSD and other mental disabilities.”
She spoke about a publication put out by the police association that she says triggered several complaints from women.
“An individual targeted female members, saying that they did not have respect from their fellow peers… implying that they were lesser police officers.”
Knecht later responded to Swist’s claims about the publication and clarified how complaints were responded to.
“Three or four years ago, the EPS Association had a publication. The vice-president of the day wrote an article in that publication and there were employees that took exception to that,” he said.
“That went to human rights and it came back from human rights and said that there wasn’t a violation of human rights,” he added. “So it has been processed, the complaint went through, it worked through the system, and the complaint was responded to.”
“I have no control over what’s in an Edmonton Police Association publication as the chief of police.”
In a statement on Friday, the EPS said:
“Nadine Swist was a sworn member of the Edmonton Police Service until she resigned her position on April 5, 2015, after accepting employment elsewhere. We are aware of her complaints in relation to issues surrounding her resignation and we have attempted to work with her to address some of those issues.
“However, we disagree with Swist’s position in relation to other ongoing matters. Swist chose to initiate proceedings in various forums in relation to those other matters and we have responded accordingly. Out of respect for the ongoing processes, we will not comment any further at this time.”
The police commission says it serves as a “link” between the EPS and the municipal and provincial governments and works to balance “public accountability and police independence.”
The non-political body is appointed to represent Edmontonians.