1,200 Toronto officers in need of first aid training as police commit to naloxone kits

As the Toronto Police Service gets set to outfit many of its officers with naloxone kits, a police board report reveals that thousands of front-line officers' first-aid training has fallen by the wayside.

1,000 more first-aid certificates set to expire by end of 2018

Chief Mark Saunders previously refusing to outfit frontline officers with naloxone kits but has now reversed that stance. (John Rieti/CBC)

The Toronto Police Service's plan to outfit more than 1,000 officers with naloxone kits has laid bare a gap in basic first aid training on the force.

Chief Mark Saunders made the commitment at a meeting of the police services board on Thursday as a way to help battle the rising number of opioid-related overdoses on Toronto streets. But a report by the chief submitted during that same meeting says there are currently 1,200 frontline officers who have expired first aid certifications.

 Another 1,000 will have their certifications end at some point in 2018, the report says. 

It is mandatory to pass first-aid training in order to become a police officer and a "requirement" for members of the police force to use the opioid blocking medication, Toronto Police spokesperson Meaghan Gray confirmed. 

Gray said first aid certifications "would be taken into consideration for any of the member that is going to be part of that structured deployment [of naloxone]." 

Naloxone kits will soon be distributed to more than 1,000 Toronto police officers. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)

It's relatively rare for a police officer to be the first responder in overdose calls; they accounted for 2.7 per cent of those calls between 2015 to 2017, according to data collected by Toronto Fire Services.

Despite this, Coun. Shelley Carroll, a member of the Toronto Police Services Board, says it's "shocking" that so many officers are without proper first aid certification.

"We all know that you have to have first aid training to become a police officer. We did not realize that they did not have a real legislative imperative to keep it entirely up to date," Carroll said.

Saunders said during the meeting he would commit to get officers additional training.

Another 1,000 officers will have their first aid certifications expire by the end of 2018. (Mehrdad Nazarahari/CBC)

The decision to outfit officers with naloxone kits is a reversal of the previous stance by Toronto Police. 

Gray says Saunders was convinced to reverse the policy after seeing data on the increase of opioid-related deaths in recent years.

He was also driven by the requests of people "who see it as a valuable tool, not only to help a member of the public but potentially help another police officer," Gray said.

'Stress on officers' to blame, says union

Mike McCormack, president of the Toronto Police Association, said the union is "concerned" but not surprised that first aid training has slipped, usually due to daily workload. 

"We're starting to see [staffing] shortages.  It's the stress on our officers — that things that should be a priority start falling by the wayside," McCormack said. 

Toronto Police Association president Mike McCormack is 'concerned' about the gap in first-aid training and says workload and staffing shortages on the police force are to blame. (CBC)

McCormack recalled his time as an officer and said that while police may not always be first responders on an overdose call, first-aid experience remains critical in situations when police arrive on the scene before paramedics and firefighters. 

"I've had to personally do CPR," McCormack said. 

[First aid] is one of the fundamental pieces of what we do in policing.- Mike McCormack, Toronto Police Association president

The lack of first aid training by some officers has met criticism for other reasons.

Nick Boyce of the Ontario HIV and Substance Use Training Program says learning how to administer naloxone can be done in a 15-minute training session. 

"Pharmacies are distributing naloxone to the broader public. Those folks don't have medical training."