Lifestyles

Lending an ear to Calgary’s finest

Suzanne Zwarun March 5 1979
Lifestyles

Lending an ear to Calgary’s finest

Suzanne Zwarun March 5 1979

Lending an ear to Calgary’s finest

Lifestyles

Take a typical three-year veteran of the Calgary police force, aged 25. Statistics the force keeps on its recruits indicate he has an above-average intelligence, which presumably counts for most Canadian police recruits. He is also in better physical shape than most and his emotional stability has been found satisfactory. Still, the officer may have a problem he doesn’t recognize.

First, there’s the stress every cop faces: he’s doing his job in the full glare of a public eye that is generally critical. To compensate, he has developed a we’re-all-in-this-together camaraderie, and spends most of his off-hours with his buddies. Not that the young officer has that much free time. He’s ambitious and he may have just bought a house, so he works a good deal of overtime. With all this, his wife is understandably getting a little fed up. Her husband has become the invisible man around the house. He feels guilty, but he can’t seem to get off the merry-go-round ...

Then, suddenly, the problem is solved. He was walking by an east Calgary hotel one night when a greasy-haired kid lounging in the door muttered, “Oink, oink.” The policeman turned and decked him. The kid took his broken nose off to a hospital, his grievance to a lawyer. After an internal investigation, it was suggested to the young officer that he might be happier in some other line of work.

Clinical psychologist Bill Barker met him for the first time during the assault investigation but, by then, it was too late—cops usually don’t get the chance to err twice. Maybe this particular man wasn’t cut out for the stresses of police

work, Dr. Barker admits. But maybe, too, he merely needed a little help.

Last August, the 950-member Calgary force was the first in Canada to hire a full-time psychologist—Bill Barker, 30, a former psychology director at Edmonton’s University Hospital. It’s a move now being studied by other forces, including those of Vancouver and Toronto. Says Calgary Police Chief Brian Sawyer: “Dr. Barker is the best investment we ever made in terms of staff development. I’m beginning to wonder how we ever got along without him.”

Barker admits he knew little about police work when he started. But since then, he says, he has come to hold policemen in near awe for the difficult job they do under demanding circumstances. “Because of their visibility and the public pressure on them, they can’t be merely human. They have to be superhuman,” he says. “Even off the job, Canadian police are expected to act in accordance with the highest standards and principles. They’re expected to become involved in community activities. There is pressure on them to remain, 24 hours a day, the helper and good citizen. They can’t ever turn it off.”

Barker’s respect is gradually and grudgingly being returned by the Calgary police, though many are still wary and angry about having a “shrink” foisted on them. Barker is making a point of meeting them all. He’s a regular ride-along on patrols, attends zone meetings, organizes stress seminars and spouse orientation courses and he will be advising the people setting up recruit training.

So far, only three dozen cops have come to him for consultations. “It’s go-

ing to take some time before they feel comfortable with me, before they recognize I’m not a spy for the administration and a visit to me isn’t going on their record,” says Barker. But he feels there is a definite need for his ministrations, despite an absence of Canadian statistics on police alcoholism, marriage breakdown, and stress-related diseases such as ulcers, hypertension and insomnia. A 1963 U.S. study found that law enforcement was the only occupation that had a higher than average death rate by coronary heart disease, suicide and late-onset diabetes. The study was duplicated in 1975 and showed that police had the third highest suicide rate, an excessive number of premature deaths in the 18 to 64 age group, and significant rates of admission to hospitals for circulatory and digestive problems.

Barker says the role of Canada’s 65,000 police is changing. “They’re into community crime prevention programs, victim counselling, the whole ‘We’re here to help you’ approach. A lot of police don’t buy that but there is a new philosophy developing.” Barker, in fact, predicts that in addition to police academies, policemen will also be recruited from among university-degree professionals who would take a short course in firearm handling and other practical necessities. That, presumably, will make the policeman more of a problem solver, more appreciated, and lessen the on-the-job stresses that are now giving Canada’s cops ulcers and chest pains.

Suzanne Zwarun