Social media causing stress for Regina police officers

Sgt. Casey Ward, president of the Regina Police Association (RPA) says social media posts have been taking a significant toll on the mental health of Regina police officers and their families. Photo by Libby Giesbrecht

Threats and negative messaging on social media are all part of a day’s work for police, but out-of-context posts drawing public criticism are taking a toll on Regina officers.

Sgt. Casey Ward of the Regina Police Service’s (RPS) Community Engagement Unit and president of the Regina Police Association (RPA) and the Saskatchewan Federation of Police Officers (SFPO), said social media has become a problem for police in Regina.

“Social media is putting a ton of stress on our officers,” said Ward.

According to Ward, a big problem with police interaction posted to social media is the lack of context around the situations shown. Videos posted to social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook can show parts of police involvement without giving viewers the full story behind the conflict.

“You get a lot of people that will post something on social media, and they’ll edit out the 15 minutes of that person berating an officer … and all you see is the police officer’s reaction,” Ward said.

Posted by Carmel Crowchild on Thursday, December 19, 2019

Jeffrey Walters, a sociologist at the University of Regina, said police criticism on social media is an “age-old issue,” particularly due to racial tension between police and minorities in Regina.

“If you live in certain areas [with heavier police presence] … there is always some tension there, there’s a lot of mistrust based upon their history,” said Walters. “When social media gets flooded with certain out-of-context videos displaying what could possibly be police excessiveness … it feeds into that narrative.”

Walters said the perspective of the viewer of a social media post is imperative to its perception.

“We get videos of almost everything out of context constantly and it really is up to our own personal sense of bias and objectiveness informing it, that’s how we see the world,” Walters said.

The disparaging social media posts critiquing police action impacts more than the officers.

“They’ve had issues where their family members, especially their kids in school, have been picked on, asked if their dad is a killer, if their dad likes to beat up people,” said Ward.

Ward acknowledged individuals have the right to share their views on police freely, whether positive or negative, but said the line is crossed when threats are administered against officers and their families.

“A lot of our members just don’t go on social media and don’t want anything to do with it because they know they’re going to see all those comments,” said Ward.

Over the past 10 years, police across Saskatchewan have received an average of 140 complaints regarding officer conduct per year. Ward said all complaints undergo official investigation by police and around 10 per cent of all complaints are substantiated.

However, even when results of an investigation reveal no wrongdoing on the part of an officer, there can be a lack of closure for officers publicly, said Ward.

“You’re cleared a year later, and nothing is ever reported on that … but your family and that officer has gone through a year of turmoil … it gets quite tough on the families.”

Ward said the RPA has not received any threats where they have felt an officer’s life was in jeopardy.

“Them having to see that after these incidences, their family having to see that, even if we don’t feel there’s a threat to their harm, it’s just the emotional toll that it takes,” said Ward.

Both Walters and Ward believe social media can positively impact policing practices and hold officers accountable. Walters also advocates the use of body cameras to show the entirety of a situation.

To combat negative portrayals of police online, Ward said the RPA is actively working to share the human side of officers, highlighting awards and community involvement.

“We’re trying to get the real story out there,” said Ward.

Mental health and social media are topics addressed during police training. Officers and their families also have access to counselling to help them process the stresses of police work.

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