Human rights probe launched into police officer's pay cut after PTSD diagnosis
'If I went to another suicide call, I would probably take my own life,' says Halifax officer
The Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission is investigating an officer's allegation he was discriminated against by Halifax Regional Police after he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Const. Mark Long said his pay was cut when he took time off work for mental health reasons. He said he was forced to see numerous doctors to prove he had a work-related mental illness.
"My own police department, who I worked for for 15 years, turned their back on me," said Long.
When he eventually came back to work, he said, he was assigned to the same patrol shift that caused his PTSD.
Abuse, violence and death
Like many officers on patrol, Long saw abuse, violence and death on a regular basis.
He said one call involved a 29-year-old man who had taken his own life. The man's brother found him and called police.
Long had to notify family members, including the man's parents, who had just left Florida on the first day of an international cruise.
"I had to advise his parents.… And the screaming on the other end of the phone," Long's voice trailed off.
Long said he felt depressed, anxious, short-tempered and suicidal.
First doctor's diagnosis: PTSD
In December 2015, Long told his employer he needed time off work.
"I was suicidal. I was barely able to look after my own children. I was really struggling."
Long said Halifax Regional Police paid directly for him to attend therapy, rather than his medical benefits plan covering the sessions.
"He [the doctor] told me that I had post-traumatic stress from my 15 years of being a police officer," Long said.
He spent eight months away from work.
One day, a disability case manager with the police force left him a voicemail saying Long's sick days and vacation days had been used up. He said he was told that if he didn't return to work, he would stop receiving income.
Unbeknownst to him, Long's pay had been cut and he had been draining his other benefit pools.
Reached for comment, media relations staff for the police did not directly comment on Long's case.
"Employee health and well-being is of utmost importance to HRP and we strive to support employees in consideration of this priority," Cindy Bayers, communications adviser for the police, wrote in an email.
Circle where it hurts
Months of meetings, letters and emails followed.
Union representatives and police management, including police Chief Jean-Michel Blais, became involved.
Long's doctor said he had sent the police force detailed notes about his condition, but there was disagreement on the cause and severity.
Police management asked Long and the police union president to fill in an injury report.
"They wanted him and I to sit down and circle the part of the body that I had injured," Long said.
"So, as ridiculous as it sounds, we circled the head."
2nd doctor's diagnosis: PTSD
The police force refused to restore Long's benefits and pay until he sought an independent medical assessment from a doctor selected by the force.
Long visited the second doctor, who independently agreed with the first — that Long suffered from severe post-traumatic stress resulting from years working as a police officer.
Long said the police force still was not satisfied. It asked the second doctor to review the notes of the first doctor, and reconsider his diagnosis.
The second doctor reviewed the notes and wrote a new report. His opinion that Long had PTSD remained unchanged.
'I was a really good cop'
Many people in Halifax may know Long.
In 2012, he single-handedly organized a bike rodeo for children living in a low-income community.
The session taught them how to ride safely in the city, using bikes donated through a grant from Sport Chek.
After the rodeo, the children were told the bikes were theirs to keep.
Long was also the architect of the police force's intranet and electronic disclosure system. To this day, the network is used by the police force to save thousands of dollars annually. Long was also given the municipal award for innovation.
"I was a really good cop," Long said.
Sent back on patrol
After nearly a year off work dealing with his mental illness and the police bureaucracy, Long returned to work in late 2016.
He was told he would only be given "light duties," including record-keeping.
But in January, he was assigned a patrol shift. Long was sent back to do the tasks that had caused his PTSD, he said.
"I only lasted in patrol a week, and I advised my sergeant I couldn't do it anymore. I told him that if I went to another call such as a suicide, I would probably take my life."
Human rights complaint filed
Since Long left the office that day, he hasn't been back. He and his family are scared his pay or benefits might be cut again.
As a result, he filed a complaint with the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission.
The commission notified the police force about its investigation into discrimination on the basis of physical and mental ability.
"We have received a copy of the complaint from the Human Rights Commission and will respect the commission's process," Halifax police's communication adviser wrote in an email.
The force has three weeks to respond to the human rights commission's letter.
Now getting treatment, but not through HRP
Before moving to Halifax, Long worked for the RCMP in British Columbia for seven months, employment that qualified him to receive psychological therapy and medicinal marijuana if needed. He's currently in a two-month support retreat in Ontario that's designed to help people with PTSD, something also being paid through his RCMP benefits.
"Unfortunately, the other officers in the HRP who didn't have time in the military or RCMP, they're out of luck," Long said.