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‘It could happen anywhere:’ Bracebridge OPP Detachment Commander reflects on officers shot near Ottawa

Less than a day after Bracebridge Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) officers arrested and later charged a 54-year-old man for having a replica handgun in downtown Bracebridge, Sgt. Eric Mueller was shot and killed in an eastern Ontario community near Ottawa. 

Two other officers were shot and injured in the exchange.  

“In the world of policing, we are all connected,” says Insp. Jason Nickle, the Bracebridge Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) Detachment Commander. 

The incident hits close to home for Nickle. He says his brother, who has since retired, served with the OPP and was shot in 1993. 

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Nickle’s son and niece also work for the OPP in other communities. 

He says when he sees news about officers being shot, no matter where it happens, his mind always goes to the “what ifs.” 

“It makes me recognize it could happen anywhere, to anybody, anytime,” says Nickle. “That’s an incredible burden for our officers to carry on a day-to-day basis.” 

When the incident in downtown Bracebridge happened, Nickle says they didn’t know immediately that the handgun was only a replica. “[The officer] went into a situation that could have very easily cost him his life,” says Nickle. However, he credits the officer, who was on his own, for handling the situation properly. “He did an amazing job,” adds Nickle. “He did what he gets paid and is trained to do.” 

In the moment, Nickle says officers don’t usually react emotionally to situations. “It’s ‘okay, my training has kicked in,'” explains Nickle. When it’s over and officers have a moment to decompress is when reality sinks in, he says, and they think about what could have happened.  

“We question our own mortality in times like that,” says Nickle.  

Nickle joined the Bracebridge OPP as its detachment commander in April 2022. Prior to that, he worked in East Algoma, Sault Ste. Marie, North Bay, and Orillia so he admits he’s seen a lot in his close to three decades as an officer.  

One change he’s seen is how mental health is handled.  

Sometimes, Nickle says you need to take a knee, take a breath, and look for a way to get help. “There is absolutely nothing wrong with that,” he adds. 

Nickle says he finds the first three years of an officer’s career is when they have no issues talking about how they’re feeling. He says with so much information coming at them so quickly, he believes they may be more open to talking. However, he believes the five to 10-year window is when the dangerous thought process of being “10 feet tall and bulletproof” sets in. “A lot of officers have this feeling of infallibility where nothing can hurt them whether physical or mental,” he explains.  

However, whether it be with veterans or rookies, Nickle says he’s noticing a change in mindset from when he started. “There is somebody out there that you can talk to,” he says.  

The overarching problem is still the stigma surrounding mental health, Nickle adds. He says he does all he can to break it and ensure officers know the support available to them, but it remains a difficult barrier for some to overcome. 

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