Nine police officer suicides prompt review from Ontario's chief coroner

Nine police officer suicides in 2018 have prompted Ontario's chief coroner to launch a review to determine what's contributing to the unusually high number.

Deaths are 'a significant number, greater than we see typically,' chief coroner Dirk Huyer says

Ontario chief coroner Dr. Dirk Huyer says nine police officers dying by suicide in 2018 is a 'significant number' and he is setting up an expert panel to look at what contributed to the deaths. (CBC)

Nine police officer suicides in 2018 have prompted Ontario's chief coroner to launch a review to determine what's contributing to the unusually high number. 

Chief Coroner for Ontario, Dirk Huyer, says some of the officer deaths were reported on and made public, but he heard from various sources there had been more.

"When we looked deeper into the information that we have within our own database, we recognized that there were nine officers who had taken their lives during the year of 2018 and that's a significant number — greater than we see typically," he said in an interview Friday morning.

"That prompted me to wonder, are there issues, patterns, themes, trends that society, those within the area of police service, [are] not identifying or recognizing that would provide potential intervention points or prevention points?"

Huyer said he's working on finding people to make up a diverse expert panel to answer those questions.

The panel could include a psychiatrist who understands mental wellness and diagnoses of mental health disorders, a psychologist who intersects with police service and supporting wellness in the service or a human resources lead, he said.

Huyer said the goal is to "have a panel that allows the ability to understand the concerns that arise … and then provide the knowledge and informed recommendations to try to reduce future deaths."

Huyer is currently not naming the officers or where they worked.

In August, the Ontario Provincial Police announced it was launching a review into suicide cases and attempts over the past five years. Huyer is assisting in that review.

Officer dies on 401 in Cambridge

In Waterloo region, a recently retired officer died in August after he was hit by a transport truck on Highway 401 in Cambridge. Police said at the time he was walking on the highway when hit.

Just months earlier, the London Police Service had charged that officer with communicating with a person for the purpose of obtaining sexual services. 

The Office of the Chief Coroner confirmed the review will include suicides among current officers and recently retired officers.

Waterloo Regional Police Service Chief Chief Bryan Larkin said he has been in contact with Huyer about the expert panel that's being formed.

"The Waterloo Regional Police Service continues to make mental health and wellness a priority for our members as well as for the community," Larkin said in an emailed statement.

"We fully support and welcome a review that will help determine how mental health support can be better provided to first responders. We look forward to the review's findings, and we are hopeful this review will result in greater awareness and more discussion concerning mental illness."

Panel to meet this spring

Huyer said they will evaluate each of the nine deaths, looking at medical records and their police record.

"Then we're going to analyze those and review those in a systematic way so that we look for commonalities across the nine cases to see whether there are issues that seem to run across, or particular issues that occur within each of the different officers," he said, calling the review more of a systemic look at the cases rather than the individual circumstances.

Work is currently underway. The families and police services where the officers worked have been notified, the records have been requested as well as the case review work has started.

Huyer would like to see the case review done in time for the expert panel to meet in the spring, with a report coming forward in the summer.