Saskatoon police says officers in high-risk jobs need a permanent in-house psychologist

Saskatoon police officers tasked with some of the most mentally taxing jobs in the city would benefit if the police force kept a recently hired clinical psychologist on permanently, police officials say.

Last year, the service hired a temporary in-house psychologist who went on to assess 74 men and 20 women working in some of the force's toughest units: internet child exploitation, forensic identification, collision analysis, sex crime, child abuse and homicide. 

"The nature of this work exposes employees to a number of potentially traumatic events or stressors that could negatively impact their mental health and well-being," according to a report the service recently sent to the Saskatoon Board of Police Commissioners.

The psychologist, Dr. Lindsay Robertson, met with each officer for at least two hours. According to the report, her work is meant to address and potentially head off stressors in a proactive manner, instead of waiting until after an incident has happened. 

"This program was adopted rather than a 'fit for duty' approach since the latter tends to be reactionary, narrow in focus and only initiated once a problem has been identified," the report says.

Robertson has also been there to meet with members after traumatic incidents to suggest strategies to cope. 

Removing the stigma

Fifty-two of the people Robertson assessed filled out a survey. Out of that group, 34 said the program helped reduce their anxiety. Sixteen said "they would not have met with the clinical psychologist had they not been mandated to do so."

Said one anonymously quoted supporter: "This is long overdue. I hope it will assist with removing the stigma and that all members will get the opportunity to access the program."

That person was not alone. Three quarters of the survey respondents said the "safeguard program" should be available to officers in even more units, including special constables, search and rescue members, crisis negotiators and all patrol officers. 

Example of pressures

The pressures facing officers who respond to high-risk situations — and the emotional toll it takes — is sometimes laid bare in coroner's inquests. The Joshua Megeney inquest in Saskatoon this past summer was an example. 

The inquest jury heard officer after officer testify about dealing with a distraught Megeney. The young man had barricaded himself behind a bedroom door and suddenly pointed a rifle at them, prompting officers to shoot. One of the bullets fatally struck Megeney in the head.

"This one broke me down afterward," testified the patrol officer who first spotted the rifle. "It took me some time to get back to being somewhat normal. I've had conversations with my wife where I'm apologizing to her because I'm not the person she married." 

Money's already there

Police officials say there is already some money in place to have a psychologist full-time, as there is money in the budget to pay for yearly psychological assessments by a contractor. 

The Saskatoon Board of Police Commissioners will meet Sept. 19 to discuss the idea. 

"Having a permanent full-time clinical psychologist position is critical in reducing the number of long-term illness and injury-related absences, while also improving the day-to-day functioning of members," according to the report. 

Yearly assessments done among Regina cops

The police force in Saskatchewan's second largest city, Regina, does not currently have an in-house clinical psychologist either. 

But since 2013, the police service has required members in its special units to attend annual psychological assessments. 

"We use community psychologists, so the member can see a psychologist of their choosing," said Elizabeth Popowich, a spokesperson for the Regina Police Service.