Sask. RCMP members undergo specialized training on domestic violence

The Saskatchewan RCMP ran a five-day program that focused on relationship violence and how to better support the safety of victims.

Advocate says training is welcome amid high rates of violence in province

A closeup shows an RCMP patch on the shoulder of a the uniform of a police officer standing outside.
The goal of the training is to help RCMP officers ensure victims are safe after leaving a detachment by providing preventive measures and referrals. (Submitted by RCMP)

Saskatchewan RCMP officers have undergone training to better help domestic violence victims in the province. 

"It's an issue that is not getting any easier or any better," said Const. Joelle Nieman, who is with the Saskatchewan RCMP Crime Reduction/Crime Prevention Unit. 

Nieman co-ordinated five days of "violence in relationships training," which happened last week. 

Experts spoke about an Indigenous perspective on domestic violence, honour-based crimes, sexual violence within relationships, strangulation and human-trafficking. There was also a focus on the complexities of domestic violence. 

Nieman said hearing directly from a survivor helped RCMP members better understand cycles of violence and how her interactions with police affected the situation. 

She said it also helped officers understand that domestic violence is "serious and it's escalating" if a call to the police is involved. 

"It was very good for our members to hear that, because when we walk into a situation it's simply that incident — we don't necessarily get that grand picture." 

Focus on victims, not charges

It was also meant to educate police on what risk factors to consider when assessing the safety of the victim.

"Traditionally, as police walking into a domestic violence situation, we naturally go toward physical signs of violence," she said. 

The training looked at emotional and financial abuse, as well as coercive, controlling behaviour — types of violence that don't always lead to charges. 

Nieman said the RCMP are not going to be measuring success on domestic violence files through Criminal Code charges. 

"We're looking at success through, when the police leave, that we have supports in place and that our victims are safe." 

At the training, presenters and participants spoke about ways safety can be obtained, including emergency intervention orders or referrals to community and partner agencies. 

Sask. has high rates of domestic violence 

​​"I think this could absolutely save lives​," said Crystal Giesbrecht, director of research and communications of Provincial Association of Transition Houses and Services of Saskatchewan (PATHS).  ​"They're going to have more tools and be better equipped to respond." 

​PATHS was a presenter during the training. They provided an overview of Saskatchewan violence and legislation and talked about the dynamics of domestic violence, including power and control. 

​Giesbrecht said it's important to have law enforcement as a partner in reducing domestic violence problems. 

​​"We continue to have the highest rates among the provinces​; that has not changed​," Giesbrecht said. 

'We're continually disappointed and frustrated by the situation in our province, but we are heartened by some of the good initiatives happening including legislation and including this training,' said Crystal Giesbrecht, PATHS director of research and communications. (CBC)

​Giesbrecht said this training can help ensure people receive a consistent response to domestic violence regardless of where they're living. RCMP officers are especially important for helping people in isolated communities, she said. 

They're almost always the first point of contact in a crisis, and Giesbrecht said the help goes beyond that. 

​"They ​might be the ones who are helping someone to get a referral to another service​,​ helping them to secure transportation​,​ helping them to make a plan.​"

The training is meant to equip officers in understanding what a domestic violence situation might look like, what the risk factors are for danger and how to keep someone safe if they do call for help. 

"Survivors are often isolated. They feel like they won't be believed and sometimes they're afraid they won't be taken seriously​," Giesbrecht noted. 

But she said people living in dangerous situations may feel more inclined to call police for help if they know officers are trained on how to respond.

​"That does help people to have the confidence t​o reach ou​t," Giesbrecht said. 

RCMP wants to expand training 

Nieman said the eventual goal is to have an officer at each detachment undergo specialized training. 

Nineteen officers from around the province participated in the full five-day course. They'll act as the point-person during domestic violence calls. 

Cop lights shining on top of a car
Giesbrecht said, 'It's really important to have this training on the dynamics to ensure that everyone in Saskatchewan gets a really good response no matter where in the province they live.' (CBC)

"To provide adequate direction supervision and assistance in these files, to just ensure that they're handled appropriately with priority and with the victim's safety at the forefront," she said.