ns-police-mckenna

Paul McKenna, the president of Public Safety Innovation Inc., says more research studying domestic violence among police is needed. (CBC)

A consultant to police forces across Canada says he's surprised a Nova Scotia agency set up to respond to police interactions with the public has received so many complaints about police behaviour in private.

The Serious Incident Response Team was set up last April as an independent body to investigate serious accusations — such as death, serious injury and sexual assault — against police.

The team has since opened 22 investigations — six of them dealing with allegations of domestic assault against the partners of police officers.

The cases involve four RCMP officers in Bridgewater, Antigonish and Halifax and two Halifax Regional Police officers.

"The fact that we've got a fairly important cluster of events that relate to intimate partner violence involving police is a little bit alarming and concerning," said Paul McKenna, the president of Public Safety Innovation Inc. and a lecturer at Dalhousie University's School of Information Management.

"There's very little solid academic research on this topic."

Ron MacDonald, the director of SIRT, said the number of domestic violence complaints received by his team are comparable to numbers in the general population.

"The thing is, you hear about these," he told CBC News.

"You hear about them when we begin our investigation, you hear about them when we lay a charge, you hear about them when they go to court."

'Significant public policy issue'

McKenna said an American study published last year studied domestic violence within law enforcement families and found a link between stressed out police officers and psychological abuse toward their partners.

"If you set what is happening within the police culture itself against that background, it's really important for us to know what's happening between and amongst police officers. When the bedroom becomes the crime scene, that's a significant public policy issue," he said Monday.

"The events that the SIRT unit in Nova Scotia is looking at could probably be used as really worthwhile leverage for us to do this kind of study in Canada."

Staff Sgt. Mark Hartlen, the president of the Halifax Regional Police Association, said officers have access to an employee assistance program that also provides counselling and services to the entire family when things go wrong.

"Domestic violence is something that we take very seriously, obviously, within the organization and the union," he said.

"In these particular cases those members probably, in each instance, would be referred to the employee family assistance program to help them through the process and see if there is a source for what's going on within the family. It's a 24/7 service."

SIRT is responsible for investigating all serious incidents involving police in Nova Scotia, whether or not there is an allegation of wrongdoing.

The team is required to file a public report within three months of concluding its investigation.