Kingston police working to ease officer burnout

Kingston police are feeling the strain as staffing shortages leave officers overworked, but the police service says it's committed to finding out how to scale back overtime. 

Police association says members are overworked amid staffing shortage

Kingston Police Chief Antje McNeely, seen in a file photo from earlier this year, made reducing mental health stigma a priority when she became chief in 2018. (Lars Hagberg/Canadian Press)

Kingston police are feeling the strain as staffing shortages leave officers overworked, with leadership says they're committed to finding out how to scale back overtime. 

The Kingston City Police Association recently called for a long-term solution to overtime, which sees officers working extra to ensure patrol shifts are covered.

Officers wind up working longer shifts due to unexpected absences, replacing someone on sick leave, being in the middle of a call they can't leave or wrapping up paperwork.

Kingston Police Chief Antje McNeely said there is a committee in place of force members and police association executives to look at the issue more closely. 

"The desired outcome for all of this analysis is to look at having the right number of officers at the right place at the right time, as well as having regard for their health, safety and officer wellness," she told CBC Radio's All in a Day Monday.

The force has added 17 new officers since last December, but will need to appeal to the city and the police services board for funding to hire more.

Issues being studied

The force is studying how much time members spend on cases and looking at changing the roles of other members on the force to distribute workloads more evenly. 

"We're looking at what the current shift schedule is like in patrol, we're looking at the zone realignments within patrol as well and we recognize that there are some inequities," the chief said.

Chief Antje McNeely his Kingston's Police Chief. 7:58

Those inequities can mean that officers working in areas with a high volume of calls sometimes take on more work.

The Kingston police chief said the committee is also studying how staffing needs differ across the year — summer, for example, often results in longer absences due to vacation time. 

Mental health at stake

If staffing needs aren't properly addressed, McNeely acknowledged that burnout among officers will persist.

"What we need to do then is get that good business case together," she said. 

"The other thing that we're doing to help is really looking at our early intervention programs in terms of our peer support, our on-site psychologist, our wellness check-ins for members that are attending high-volume calls."

The police chief added that "psychological debriefs" for staff members are also important, as is a new area of workplace mental health McNeely called "organizational resilience."

"That's examining how our employees who work in high-demand work contexts overcome challenges and how the organization can help foster resilience," she explained.

The police service has partnered with Queen's University's Smith School of Business to study the issue. 

McNeely is hopeful that the committee will finalize its staffing recommendations before presenting its findings to the police board in October and Kingston city council in November. 

With files from CBC Radio's All in a Day