Published May 23, 2024

Specially trained Barrie police officers will deal with families 'at the worst time of their lives'

Family matters.

The Barrie Police Service (BPS) has recognized this and in March offered a specialized training course that 12 officers attended to allow them to better support victims of crime in the community by becoming family liaison officers.

The course was the first of its kind in Canada and was taught by instructors from the United Kingdom of Policing.

Barrie Police Detective Constable Deborah Howe recognized the benefits of family liaison officers when she was a police officer in England for 12 years. She said they will assign specially trained liaison officers whose sole responsibility is dealing with the family, where there has been a homicide, road death, or other serious incident.

"That can be obtaining evidence from the family and taking statements if required, and assisting the family or victim through the investigation, subsequent court proceedings, and everything like that."

According to Howe, the norm in Canada is to have a victim liaison officer assigned when there is a major case, but typically it's not that officers sole responsibility in the investigation. They could be the lead investigating the crime and be tied up with everything else. Having a family liaison officer with a sole focus will make a difference, she believes.

"We're going to assign specially trained officers who will deal with families at the worst time of their lives and they won't be dealing with anything else."

Howe says this will spare families so they don't have to phone and go through a switchboard to try and get a hold of an officer or information.

For the past few years, Howe has been a one-person operation acting as a family liaison officer for the BPS along with her role as detective-constable, so other officers who have this expertise training, she believes, will be invaluable.

Barrie Police Detective Constable Melanie Beard welcomed the opportunity to take part in the course.

"We've never really had any training specifically to tell families how their loved one has been affected or died. It gave us certain language and words to use," she explained. "It gave us a chance to really feel we can support the families as opposed to letting them down."

Beard says when she has done notifications in the past she has felt like she was missing something.

"This really rounds out the experience for the officers because it's not an easy task to go and tell someone that their loved one is injured or dead, and this gave us some tools to make it a little easier."

Being there for the family is critical, but Howe says the course also teaches the professional boundaries that are in play.

"What this course teaches you is that your primary role is an investigator, but also to the family to offer support and whatever is needed. I think what's been missing before is officers would do the death notification, then walk away and that was it. The family is waiting for information and has so many questions, and they're waiting to hear from the lead investigator or are calling trying to get information."

Family liaison officers will also be able to connect families and victims with different partner agencies within the community that can help them with their grief and understanding on how to move forward from something tragic that has happened.

Beard believes the program will be beneficial to officers as well as impacted families.

"I think it also gives the officers the opportunity to have a core group of people where they can bounce ideas off each other and see what actually does work and kind of support each other," says Beard. "A lot of times there are experiences that affect officers. Having the ability to talk about it within our peer group and discuss what works and what doesn't work, and to be more effective with each other and members of the public with the tragedies that we're facing each day. I think it's really beneficial for everyone."

Banner image L - R: Barrie Police Detective Constable Melanie Beard, Barrie Police Detective Constable Deborah Howe

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