Eighteen Years and Counting…

I was medically discharged from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in July 2000.  It’s now December 8, 2018 and I am reading about Sgt. Pierre Lemaitre, his stress-related departure from the RCMP and ultimately his suicide.  I recognize most of the environmentally adverse conditions that tortured Pierre as being present and fully accounted for during my decline from health and the Force as well.  In terms of cultural change within the RCMP – it does appear that change has been moving at a pace that can only be described as thick and slow.  I don’t think I am the only one saying it, either.

I’ve just moved back to Vancouver Island after spending 15 years in California.  While down south, I was invited to assist in the training of law enforcement officers on the topic of mental illness.  We started out with a 16 hours Basic Level course and it has built up into a full 40-hours Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Training that has now expanded to include an additional 16-hours of training specifically for Dispatch personnel.

When I got back up here, I started asking some of the officers I encountered, “What does your Crisis Intervention Team training look like around here?”  I was surprised by the consistent answers I got.  Apparently there is a 3 or 4 hour on-line training exercise that is mandatory for all officers to complete.  News Flash…A short session of mandatory on-line presence is not doing or even practicing CIT and cultural shifting will not take place in front of a computer. Really…have you ever taken a mandatory, on-line training that is timed?  I’ve usually walked away from such sessions with the driving urge to purge the whole thing!

Crisis Intervention Team Training has been around for 30 years now.  The driving organization, CIT International, has spokes that reach far and wide including pockets of activity in Ontario!  It’s about more than just training – it’s all about improving crisis response.

To add injury to insult – the tragic loss of Sgt. Lemaitre began with a group of responding officers’ fatal handling of a mentally distressed Robert Dziekanski at the Vancouver Airport years ago.    Two people died.  The RCMP received a large blackeye over its handling of the Dziekanski case then, and it looks like the Coroner’s Jury has more recently pointed out some systemic issues that continue to plague the Force – Our Crisis Response must improve.

The Crisis Intervention Team International hosts a large conference every year in August.  Next year’s conference (2019) is being held in Seattle, Wash.  Here is the link with all the information.  http://www.citinternational.org/events

This conference brings together international law enforcement officers, mental health care providers, advocacy groups and persons with lived-experience.  I challenge the decision makers, particularly in Western Canada, to participate in the 2019 Seattle conference and compare what you’ll find there, to what you’ve got here.  Maybe it’s the first step.

D. Scott Whyte


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