Assaults, violence leading causes of injury for Mounties
Health and safety report also outlines concerns RCMP officers have about gear and living quarters
More than 530 Mounties were injured on the job last year while being subjected to assaults and other violent acts — usually during incidents where officers had to use force to subdue someone.
The information is contained in the RCMP's 2015 report on occupational health and safety, obtained by CBC News, which looks at everything from ergonomics at employees' desks to on-the-job injuries and fatalities.
The report notes that physical control is more effective in subduing a suspect than using current "intermediate weapons," such as a baton or a stun gun.
It also says the force is "working to make improvements to several intermediate weapons," among them:
- Using a more potent pepper spray that could be sprayed farther.
- Trying out the newest generation of stun gun or Taser.
- Piloting a "general duty 40 mm extended-range impact weapon."
That "impact" weapon is likely a shotgun that fires small beanbags, said Sgt. Brian Sauvé, currently on leave from the RCMP to help the National Police Federation (NPF) certify a union for the Mounties.
"Can we come up with a more effective first line of response to deal with combative subjects at a distance? That's the beanbag round," he said. "I do know that in the Burnaby and Surrey detachments, they did pilot that project."
No one from the RCMP responded to CBC's request for information or an interview.
The report also reveals that RCMP employees are also falling down on the job — literally.
Last year, 699 Mounties and civilian employees reported slipping and falling. Of those, 98 experienced "disabling" accidents where they could not go to work the next day.
"The majority of falls occurred on RCMP controlled property. The most common risk factor associated with all categories of employees' falls … was due to slippery surfaces (i.e., slippery lobby floors during and after rainfall, icy/snowy sidewalks)," the report said.
Mounties are also getting hurt while behind the wheel. In 2015, they reported 216 injuries sustained while driving.
The report says most accidents happen during the day and in cities, while driving at or below the speed limit when the pavement is dry and during routine operations — not while on emergency calls.
In other words, officers are most likely distracted while driving.
"Since the analysis of RCMP MVAs demonstrates that lack of attention may play a significant role in the majority of collisions, it is recommended that the RCMP conducts further analysis to confirm this hypothesis," the report read.
"The proactive police officers out there are running licence plates as they drive to find that stolen vehicle, to see those expired insurance tags to conduct vehicle enforcement," said Sauvé.
Better bulletproof vests
The health and safety report also documents issues of importance to frontline RCMP officers.
Among them is an outstanding request from 2011, asking for lighter bulletproof vests for members serving on contract and with Aboriginal policing emergency response teams (ERTs).
The force should have been able to acquire the vests in the 2016-17 fiscal year, the document says.
But Sgt. Pete Merrifield, also working with the National Police Federation, said those officers don't yet have new vests.
"I would say there are probably 300 active ERT members across the country. They get called into our most high-risk scenarios and situations," he said. "And I would suggest that this is probably now bordering on a very serious labour code violation."
Hard armour is supposed to be replaced every five to seven years, Merrifield said, and officers should get new soft armour every three to five years, depending on exposure to moisture.
"We've got emergency response teams that have reached out and contacted NPF that are carrying 10-year-old hard plates and eight- [or] nine-year-old soft body armour," he said.
Concern about RCMP buildings
Frontline officers are also concerned about excessive overtime, the buildings in which they live and work, as well as the quality of water in remote and isolated areas.
For years Mounties have asked for data on the state of RCMP housing, with a specific focus on health and safety complaints, such as radon, asbestos and mould.
The report says the response of the force's chief financial and administrative officer touched on how "improvements are expected to be made in order to ensure more efficient oversight at the national level on the status of RCMP buildings."
But that answer just isn't good enough, Sauvé said, when some Mounties are living in mouldy trailers or working in unheated buildings.
"There's a detachment in Manitoba that just complained to me last week that none of their heaters work. In fact, they were blowing fuses by plugging in temporary heaters," he told CBC News. "The cellblock has 11 cells and they're using temporary heaters to heat the cells while they have prisoners in place."
While he understands the challenges the federal government is facing in maintaining buildings in isolated places, Sauvé said it also has to respect the Mounties.
"In a lot of these places, we are the de facto social worker, probation officer, nurse, doctor, as well as corrections."
The document also highlights the RCMP's accomplishments when it comes to health and safety, including:
- Implementation of new safety procedures, training and equipment to help members safely respond to incidents involving illicit use of the opioid fentanyl.
- A noise-exposure evaluation on the new C8 carbine firearm, which has led to improved hearing-protect equipment and better sound-engineering at firing ranges. (Hearing loss remains the most common disability for retired RCMP officers.)
The report also looks at injuries specific to civilians who work for the RCMP.
For them, exposure to traumatic events, such as answering emergency calls from the public, is responsible for most work-related health problems.