It's understandable that police organizations and the leaders within them want to portray their work environments as supportive of their members when it comes to mental health. But we see far too many members being hurt and unsupported not to speak out. It's also important for us to state that not all organizations are failing to support their members. Even within some poorly structured organizations, there are many leaders who are doing their best for their members. But there are still enough problems for us to believe that this discussion about toxic work environments has to come out in the open.
In our roles, as two peer support workers (retired staff sergeants Brad McKay, York Regional Police; and Sylvio [Syd] Gravel, Ottawa Police), we are often taken aback by how many organizations think, or claim, that all is well with the support they offer their members, considering the conversations we have had with some of their members.
We thought it would be enlightening for those who lead police organizations to hear from us as two officers who have a combined sixty-eight years of experience supporting officers who suffer from mental health injuries or illnesses that can be attributed directly to toxic police work environments.
We have enlisted Barbara Anschuetz, a registered psychotherapist, with over thirty years of experience as a clinical mental health professional with police members and their families, to add her professional clinical perspective and many experiences to this publication.
We are not academics. Nor are we mental health professionals. We are simply two officers who have worked the streets, faced difficult situations in policing and survived. Our journeys were different in many aspects. Yet we both came through our injuries, scarred, but healed in many ways and still healing in others.
This book has been written with the intention of sharing with leaders what we hear from those who are suffering now. It may not be the truth police leaders want to hear. But, nevertheless, they need to know what some members see, hear and feel about working in their policing environment. We do not name organizations or people in this book, even when quoting from members in our narrative. These citations speak for themselves.
Nor do we advocate for groups or individuals. We want to encourage leaders to move toward positive change by presenting issues that create toxicity for the organization and help leaders "slay the dragon" in their workplaces.
Where we can, we offer advice on how to lessen toxicity, based on specific incidents we have seen. But, at the end of the day, this is truly about leaders taking ownership of their own work environments and doing what is right to remove toxicity in all its forms. The more they know about what can go wrong the more likely they are not to let things happen to start with.
We end our book by presenting twenty-two recommendations that are based on what members have told us are missing in police services or where areas can be improved. Our intent is to help leaders slay the toxic dragon.