Officer deaths make recruitment more challenging: police chiefs association

·4 min read

TORONTO — Recent deaths of on-duty police officers will make recruiting new officers more challenging, an association representing police chiefs in Ontario said after an officer was fatally shot in a village east of Ottawa on Thursday.

Joe Couto, the director of government relations with the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police, said the death of an Ontario Provincial Police officer is a shock to the entire policing community and a reminder of the risks officers face every day.

OPP Sgt. Eric Mueller was killed and two other officers were injured after responding to a disturbance at a home in Bourget, Ont., early Thursday morning.

His death comes after a Toronto police officer was shot dead in Mississauga, Ont., in September, two South Simcoe Police constables were killed in Innisfil, Ont., in October, and an OPP officer was shot in late December while responding to a call for a vehicle in a ditch.

"This is another very tragic on-duty death," Couto said.

"That's very disturbing to us and it's very disturbing to our members."

Couto said police forces in Ontario have already been facing challenges in recruiting members that reflect their communities and recent officer deaths make that even more difficult.

"We are very cognizant that we want to represent our communities," he said. "We want to make sure that we have people from all kinds of different backgrounds."

Couto said young people interested in becoming police officers may be hesitant to pursue that career path because of shootings that target officers.

He said people generally understand that policing can be a difficult and dangerous profession which requires a lot of dedication to work night and weekend shifts.

"Policing has always been a sort of a vocation for a lot of people. They've always wanted to do it either because they grew up in a policing family or they have a sense of duty, or they simply think policing is a worthwhile and exciting occupation," he said.

"When we have the dangerous aspects ... the recruits are going to think twice, 'Is this something that I wanna put myself and my family through?'"

Mark Baxter, president of the Police Association of Ontario, said the recent deaths of on-duty officers are having a "dramatic impact" on the policing community.

"It's really devastating to our police and community that we are once again grieving and mourning the loss of one of our colleagues in the line of duty," he said.

"The deaths and the murders of those officers is having a profound impact across the profession and certainly it's going to impact recruiting."

Baxter said police forces across Ontario have seen a drop in the number of applicants in the last few years due to a number of factors.

He said his association has been working with the Ontario government to reduce barriers and encourage more people to become police officers.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said last month the province will eliminate the post-secondary education requirement to become a police officer, expand enrolment for its basic training program and axe tuition fees at the Ontario Police College.

"We think that's going to have an impact and certainly broaden the pool of potential police officers," Baxter said.

Justin Piché, an associate professor of criminology at the University of Ottawa, said an analysis of data from Canadian police forces, police associations and Statistics Canada shows that a total of 408 on-duty officers died between 1962 and this month, including 170 officers whose deaths resulted from intentional harmful acts, such as shootings and stabbings.

He said while the recent deaths are “troubling,” the annual rate of officers losing their lives on duty has been stable over the past three decades.

Piché, who has authored research and compiled data on police deaths since 1962, said the rate of such deaths was higher in the 1960s and 1970s.

“We should take (police deaths) seriously,” he said. “But in terms of trying to get a sense of context…or a sense of the scale of the problem or the scope of the problem, I do think it's important to take a longer view.”

With files from Sharif Hassan

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 11, 2023.

Maan Alhmidi, The Canadian Press