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British police watch Saskatoon program in action

SASKATOON – It’s a new initiative that was introduced in June of last year by the Saskatoon Police Service (SPS) and it’s piqued the interest of forces from all over the world.

On Sunday, two officers and a mental health nurse flew in from the United Kingdom to present at a Care and Custody Conference and to hear about successes within the SPS force regarding its operation known as the Police and Crisis Team (PACT).

READ MORE: Government funds team handling mental health crises in Saskatoon

“It’s the right solution at the right time,” said Insp. Mitch Yuzdepski of Specialized Uniform Operations for SPS.

“Mental health is actually one of the areas that police are increasingly encountering.”

A sentiment echoed by Inspector Rob Curtis of the Devon and Cornwall Police of the United Kingdom who was quick to acknowledge the distance between the two forces geographically but that they experience the same issues in police enforcement.

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“It’s long been recognized putting someone who’s mentally ill in a police cell who’s done nothing criminally wrong is just not right and I think there’s great strides to change that.”

Strides through sharing positive outcomes with each other, both police detachments have dedicated members who prevent people from being taken into custody during a mental health crisis, diverting them to the support and follow they really need.

“I think what we’ve learned is there’s a huge willingness here and I think if you have all the people together, there’s a shared vision and a shared interested, you can make any scheme successful,” said Curtis. “I think that’s what we’ve learned already.”

As part of the U.K. program, officers rely on psychiatric nurses in the police control room to influence decisions and provide the best possible care to those in crisis.

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“Over the first 12 months, and it may not sound a lot, we can directly say we saved nine peoples lives,” added Curtis

In Saskatoon, police are paired with a mental health professional from the Saskatoon Crisis Intervention Service and co-respond to situations. According to Yuzdepski, 5,000 calls a year are made to the SPS involving someone with a mental health crisis and that’s a conservative estimate.

By diverting those in crisis with PACT and avoiding a police apprehension or emergency department visit, the overall system is spared thousand upon thousands of dollars in costs.

Pioneering the program for other services in the province, five arrests a month are avoided as a result of the two teams in Saskatoon. Forty per cent of those clients in crisis have been referred to primary care or community supports.

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“Somewhere around 40 per cent of calls relate to suicidal ideation or someone is feeling that is an option so that would suggest to me if we’re responding to that high of volume indeed we are helping people be safe and we are saving lives,” said Rita Field, executive director at Saskatoon Crisis Intervention Service.

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