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A police officer aims a firearm at a firing range.

‘Life-saving’ program helps RCMP officers return to work after trauma (Health and Wellness Series, Part 1)

The shared experiences of RCMP officers is critical to the National Reintegration Program's success. Credit: RCMP


A self-directed and peer-driven program is helping RCMP officers return to operational duties after a critical incident, traumatic experience, or a prolonged absence from operational duties.

The National Reintegration Program is designed to help RCMP officers overcome any personal obstacles or barriers they may be experiencing in returning to operational work. RCMP S/Sgt. Ray Savage started the program in Alberta in 2015 when looking for ways to help his coworkers. While the RCMP offers psychological support and other services for members following a critical incident, Savage, inspired by a similar program at the Edmonton Police Service, thought RCMP officers could also support their colleagues.

"Members want to come back to work, but don't necessarily know how," says Savage, the National Reintegration Program co-ordinator. "We offer them an opportunity, in a confidential, secure, and safe environment, to help rebuild their skills and get them ready to return to mandatory training or operational duty."

After finding success in Alberta, the initiative expanded to a national program that serves RCMP officers in seven provinces and two territories. Work is underway to build capacity and expand the service for all RCMP officers across the country. The program is confidential, judgement-free, and absent of any tests or assessments. While offered to officers following a critical incident, the program is also available to officers gradually returning to work or after a prolonged absence.

"It's a member-directed program and the participating officer really directs the pace. It's built by them," says Savage. "For example, if a member hasn't heard gunfire since their incident, we can expose them to some of the sounds and smells that were associated with the incident and help normalize that."
Reintegration program facilitators are certified to deliver a wide range of RCMP training allowing them to organize a variety of activities in a safe environment such as scenario-based training, firearms and police defensive tactics, and driving and working in a police vehicle. Facilitators can also tailor incident-specific training that the participating officer has identified.

Confidence and critical incidents

Cst. Morgan Kay, who works at the RCMP's Wetaskiwin detachment in Alberta, credits the program for helping him return to operational duty. "It for sure saved my career," he says.

Kay was involved in an officer-involved shooting in 2020 that ended with the death of the suspect and Kay injured by a gunshot to the head. He lost a tooth, broke a finger, and needed surgery followed by a long physical recovery.

A supervisor who's also a reintegration facilitator suggested Kay reach out to program organizers for help with his return to work. Kay worked with facilitators to recreate aspects of the incident helping reassure him that the split-second decision he had to make was the right choice.

"The program allowed me the freedom to explore aspects of the shooting and I could put it to bed," he says. "I've now seen it slowed down in a safe, training environment and that's a huge confidence boost to me."

Operational training

RCMP Cpl. Nicholas Duncan says that while psychological and operational stress injury support programs within the RCMP were helping him as he worked to return to work following a critical incident, it was the reintegration program that reignited his passion for police work.

"I didn't know if I wanted to continue being a cop," says Duncan, who works with the Alberta Law Enforcement Response Teams focusing on organized crime and drug investigations.

He discussed his experience with facilitators and worked with them to get recertified on some police training. He also spent a day at the shooting range to review firearms tactics.

"I drove home from the range and I felt amazing. It was like there was a fire lit inside of me and the passion had come back, but it was even stronger," says Duncan. "It brought together all the hard work I was doing to work through the trauma and be a better, healthier person both mentally and physically."

Shared experiences

As RCMP officers themselves, the facilitators can share their own past experiences with participants of the program. "The RCMP psychologists are great to deal with and they do fantastic work, but they've never been a police officer and at a base level, they don't know what I'm going through," says Kay. "With the reintegration program, you know the person you're sitting across the table from knows what you're going through and they've been there too."

Kim Nocita, the RCMP's director of member benefits who oversees the program, says the feedback she has received from participants shows its value. "'Career changing' and 'life saving' are things we hear often," says Nocita. "Members say they may have gone on leave or retired if it had not been for the support received through this program."

The program is now available in all provinces and territories except Manitoba, and currently recruiting facilitators with a range of policing experiences. Nocita says officers are matched with facilitators who have done similar work. For example, an officer with the Emergency Response Team (ERT) may be partnered with a facilitator who also has an ERT background, or an officer who's worked at an isolated post can be matched with someone who's also worked in remote regions.

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