John Stapleford’s Story – Training Officer, Halton Regional Police
My name is John. I am currently a member of the Halton Regional Police Service and have been for 15 years.
I began my career working as a Patrol Officer out of 20 Division in the Town of Oakville. I, like every other member, spent the first several years of my career learning systems, taking calls and developing the skills necessary to be a good police officer.
I responded to fatal collisions, suicides, sudden deaths, violent crimes, stabbings and all the other calls that become a part of our day-to-day lives. I had a fantastic platoon that had become a well-oiled machine because of the incidents we had been involved in.
When I started policing, I thought I was fine, that I would know when I wasn’t feeling ‘right’ and would be able to get help if I needed.
In August 2009, I was involved in an on-duty collision when my partner and I were transporting a prisoner back to the division. I was in the passenger seat and sustained injuries that were not overly serious but have had a life-long affect on me, both physically and emotionally.
In January 2012 a disgruntled middle-aged man attended our Division in Oakville and he rammed one of my platoon mate’s vehicles as he was attempting the leave the parking lot. After the officer led the male back into the parking lot, he exited his vehicle and began charging at another member while brandishing a large knife. The male refused to respond to commands and continued to advance on the officer very quickly. I watched as my partner fired multiple rounds at the male, all seemingly ineffective from where I was. I felt that if I didn’t eliminate the threat, the male would cause bodily harm to my co-worker and friend. I fired multiple rounds and immediately ‘stopped the threat.’
We later learned that this individual had violently murdered his wife prior to coming to the police station.
I returned to work almost immediately and continued to work at a normal pace, without any change because I was FINE. Then, in April, I was patrolling on a seemingly normal day and began to experience a significant amount of anxiety and started crying. I took a couple blocks off and went back to normal again.
Moving ahead, in November 2013, I responded to a call for service where a young male had attended his parents house, advised them that he had a gun and wanted in. The parents refused and he left in his vehicle just before officers arrived. The young man was located a short distance away and negotiations were started to try and have him exit his vehicle and speak to officers. The male exited his motor vehicle a total of three times, brandishing a firearm and pointing it at his head. Significant amounts of time were spent trying to negotiate this young man to drop the gun and talk to us. The final time the young man exited he made the decision to point the gun at the officers holding points. Several rounds were fired, and the young man died on scene.
I took a few weeks off after this incident, but the difference this time was that I was returning to a new position in our divisional traffic unit and was expecting a baby. I still felt FINE.
After these incidents and my new familial addition, I continued to work and had the opportunity to work in a few different positions inside my organization.
Then, in 2016, just before I was about to welcome a second addition to my family, I made a decision.
The decision I made was to end my life. I picked a time, place and method and decided that was the only way I could end the suffering I was feeling. I chose to do it on-duty so I could avoid traumatizing my family. I sat in my police vehicle and made the plan to call for an ‘officer needs assistance’ so that the likelihood of a member of the public finding me would be reduced.
While I was sitting there, I happened to look at my phone and the screen flashed on, showing me my home screen photo of my young daughter. I immediately thought about all the ‘firsts’ I would miss and about missing the chance to meet my son, who was due to arrive soon. I was overwhelmed and for the first time, I realized I was no longer FINE.
I left, never said a word to anyone about my plan, and carried on ‘normally.’ I did make the decision to attend a support group and began seeing a therapist regularly. Not surprisingly I was diagnosed with PTSD with moderate to severe symptoms, as well as depression. I also made the decision on 23Jun16 to take a leave from work to focus on getting better.
During my time off, I continued working with a couple support groups, saw a therapist regularly and then was fortunate to participate in Project Trauma Support. All these things helped with some of the healing process.
I returned to work several months later and also began doing presentations about my mental health struggles. Most of these presentations were done to outside organizations, but I have also had the chance to speak with our newest recruits. My focus has always been to develop a mental health team that helps new members start to recognize when things are starting to change for them.
I had the good fortune to be asked to participate in the HRPS app called ‘Back-Up Buddy.’ I provided a videotaped testimonial about my mental health struggles and it is accessible to the general public. The video from that app was also shown on CBC to focus on mental health struggles in the first responder community. I was then invited by our Association president to be a guest on his podcast so that I could discuss my struggles, focusing on our membership.
Recently, I had some professional and private issues arise that led me to taking some more time off from work. I was finding myself slipping back into a hole and couldn’t seem to work my way out on my own. I lost a very close friend and co-worker on January 6 and that was the ‘straw.’
I am currently getting help and participating in therapy that I hope will continue to make me stronger. I am hopeful that I might be able to return to work again soon.