Mental health groups provide support to police and family members after an officer dies in the line of duty
Support groups are reaching out to Toronto police officers and their families with mental health and counseling resources this weekend as they cope with the death of one of their own in the line of duty.
Const. Jeffrey Northrup died in hospital after being struck by a vehicle in the City Hall parking lot near Queen Street West and Bay Street early Friday. Investigators called the incident an “intentional and deliberate act”. A 31-year-old man has been charged with first degree murder in connection with this case. He appeared in court on Friday and was remanded in custody until his next court appearance on July 23, police said.
“I have experienced several police officers who have lost their lives in the line of duty,” said Dave McLennan, president of Boots on the Ground mental health organization and former Peel Regional Police officer.
“It’s a terrible tragedy and it only brings back those memories. And I know a lot of police are feeling it right now. It is a difficult time for all police officers in town and across the country.”
Jon Reid, president of the Toronto Police Association, said on Friday the organization will provide support to relatives of Northrup and other Toronto police officers, including mental health resources, bereavement counseling and programs awareness raising.
The Toronto Police Department has also created an online condolence book where people can pay tribute to family, friends and colleagues at Northrup.
In response to the overwhelming feedback from the community, we’ve created an online condolence book.
Anyone wishing to offer their thoughts to the family, friends and colleagues of Agent Northrup can do so by visiting our website: https://t.co/ZEfZgRXqAm pic.twitter.com/ l4swAmxZ4S
Boots on the Ground is a free peer-to-peer support network launched in 2018 for police, correctional officers and other first responders across Ontario. Their anonymous hotline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
McLennan started Boots on the Ground after 30 years working as a police officer. He said that although employers offer wellness programs, many first responders would not turn to these in-house services for help due to the stigma surrounding mental health.
âNo one goes through a 30-year career as a first responder without having their ups and downs. And unfortunately, I’ve seen some people struggle with different things with sleep and [post-traumatic stress disorder] and drug addiction and, in the worst case scenario, suicide, âhe said.
“We’re used to being the helpers, and not so comfortable asking for help ourselves. And we also have to make that more normal, because the first responders are human. When they take off the uniform, they are like everyone else. “
McLennan said Boots On The Ground has answered more than 900 calls since 2018 and the need has only grown as the pandemic has placed first responders under enormous stress. Last month was the busiest of the group with 78 calls, he added.
âUnfortunately, sometimes people still see sanity as a weakness, and it’s certainly not a weakness. It’s a strength to be able to reach out and say, ‘Hey, I need a shot. right now. ‘”
Understanding the ‘first responder culture’ is key
Kristal Jones, president and co-founder of the Toronto Beyond the Blue organization, said she worked with Northrup on cases when she was an investigator for a telecommunications company.
“He was a good person, he was a great dad, he was proud, he loved his family,” she said. “It’s a huge loss.”
Beyond the Blue provides resources and peer support to civilian and uniformed members of the Toronto Police Service, including assistance in locating a mental health professional. It’s support that Jones says will be crucial at this time.
Jones co-founded the organization in 2017 when she struggled to find support for her own husband, who is a police officer. It is now a national non-profit organization with chapters across Canada.
âHaving access to approved professionals – people who are trauma-informed and understand the culture of first responders – is really important,â Jones said.
âWhen a member of the Toronto Police Service experiences six, seven or eight critical or traumatic incidents in the space of a week, the average person might only experience one or two traumatic incidents in their life.
Beyond the Blue offers assistance to families who need help supporting a police officer who has experienced a traumatic event, as well as to families who have lost someone who was a police officer.
Jones said they offer educational workshops for families to help them recognize the signs of post-traumatic stress disorder and avoid burnout themselves.
âWhen I saw my husband change, he wasn’t the man I married. He was angry, he pulled out, he didn’t want to do the things that brought him joy anymore. Went nowhere. He would be raging, “she said.
Jones said these conversations and recordings need to go on for the long term, as symptoms can appear long after a traumatic event.
âIt might take two weeks, it might take a month, it might take six months before you start to notice that, ‘Hey, I’m not doing well.
Boots on the Ground can be reached at 1-833-677-2668 and the Toronto Beyond the Blue hotline is available at 647-249-7121.