The LaSalle Police Department is trying to recruit something new in the face of the nationwide staffing challenge

Students at the University of Windsor, Dan Aheer.  left and Sajed Farhat, right, spent a day at the LaSalle Police Service exploring law enforcement as a career path.  (Jason Viau/CBC - photo credit)

Students at the University of Windsor, Dan Aheer. left and Sajed Farhat, right, spent a day at the LaSalle Police Service exploring law enforcement as a career path. (Jason Viau/CBC – photo credit)

After Dan Aheer completed the Honors program in psychology at the University of Windsor, he considered applying to be a police officer so he could better serve people with mental health problems.

There continue to be “major challenges” in recruiting police officers across Canada at this time, contributing to a “staffing crisis,” according to the Police Association of Ontario.

The LaSalle Police Service is exploring a new way to potentially attract recruits like Aheer. He’s 20 years old and “a bit on the fence” about becoming an officer.

“So I think my background in psychology will be very helpful because very often when you come into contact with a cop, it’s not exactly the best day of your life. I think having that experience of understanding people will help a lot,” Aheer said.

This week he was one of four University of Windsor students who spent the day with officers from all ranks of the LaSalle Police Department. The partnership began late last year. It gives students from different academic backgrounds the opportunity to see what officers do and how they got there.

Aheer said he wants to learn more about the Community Outreach and Support Team (COAST). It is a partnership between the LaSalle Police Department and Hotel-Dieu Grace Healthcare, with an officer working alongside a social worker. The team helps connect people with mental health challenges to the resources they need.

It also reduces the workload of frontline workers dealing with a rising number of mental health-related calls.

To address this in Windsor, Police Chief Jason Bellaire has previously called for changes to the healthcare system, which “has so many gaps and disruptions between services”.

The Windsor Police Service declined to be questioned about its recruitment efforts.

“Re-branding” policing to attract new recruits

To encourage people to apply, several associations are working on a concerted effort to rebrand the policing profession, something that has never been done before.

It is a partnership between the Police Association of Ontario (PAO), the Ontario Provincial Police Association, the Toronto Police Association and the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police.

In the next few months, the group hopes to launch a “positive public relations campaign to reach our youth, to get young adults interested in policing,” said PAO President Mark Baxter.

The challenge of recruiting new police officers has been “exacerbated” by a few factors, according to the PAO. Five officers have been killed on the job since September, underscoring the many risks of the job.

“Policing has become an increasingly complex task that challenges members to do more with less,” Baxter said.

Jason Viau/CBC

Jason Viau/CBC

In recent years the profession has also come under scrutiny and reforms have been called for following high profile cases of police brutality.

Baxter says the negative media attention that often stems from incidents in the US can also dampen public interest in becoming an officer, but “it’s still one of the noblest professions” for people who want to be in the civil service.

This is an area Sajed Farhat said he would like to change; the sometimes negative perception of the police. Though policing may not be as desirable as it used to be, Farhat said he’s passionate about helping people and is focused on becoming a sworn officer.

The 24-year-old University of Windsor criminology and psychology student also spent the day tailing LaSalle police.

“They need more good police officers. We need more people who like the police, who care about the police,” Farhat said.

Police organizations now sell themselves to recruits

A small police force like LaSalle, serving a community of more than 32,000 people, competes for the same recruits as organizations in larger cities. LaSalle hires one or two sworn officers each year.

“We want to sell ourselves. Everyone thinks the candidate needs to sell himself to us, but the tide has changed a bit,” said Jason Woods, LaSalle deputy police chief.

The selling points of a smaller service are also different, as LaSalle police are more community-focused, Senior Const said. Bonnie Racine.

Jason Viau/CBC

Jason Viau/CBC

She spends most of her time as a COAST officer helping people with mental health issues along with a social worker. However, being a smaller police service, she rotates through more than a dozen other roles at various times throughout the year. Racine helps with recruitment, is trained as a crisis negotiator, is on the naval unit and investigates sexual assault and crimes against children, among other things.

Over the next five years, the LaSalle Police Department said seven of its officers may retire, which is a lot for a service with 40 sworn members.

“It’s a big problem,” Racine said, adding that seven officers is a platoon, or the equivalent of an entire shift.

Recruitment challenges lead to officer burnout

The recruitment challenge comes at a high cost; officer burnout. CBC News previously reported that 35 percent of officers who took part in a Canadian Police Association (CPA) survey said they went to work when they were mentally unwell. This, the CPA previously told CBC, impacts the overall safety of the community.

Every police department in Ontario is understaffed, putting a strain on current officers, Baxter said.

A lack of interest in policing also creates problems filling retirement or other vacancies, adding to the stress of those still on the front lines, Baxter said. Officers often respond to traumatic calls that can cause post-traumatic stress disorder.

“Often, not always, but often, they have to be off work for a period of time so they can get the treatment they need and take care of their own mental health so they can then care for members of their community said Baxter.


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