City of Calgary, CPS take ‘first step’ in improving crisis call response with $11.4M announcement

A winter cityscape of the Calgary downtown with light trails taken on Feb. 28, 2014. Getty Images

The City of Calgary and Calgary Police Service have taken a first step in improving how and which emergency services respond to calls involving matters like mental health or addictions.

CPS and the city announced $11.4 million in funding from the CPS budget reallocation and the Community Safety Investment Framework (CSIF), going to 50 programs and initiatives.

“This is the first step,” CPS Chief Mark Neufeld said.

“This is a lot of good work that’s actually been put together in a very short period of time, in collaboration with the community.”

Late last year, CPS dedicated $8 million for the next two years to reduce demand for officers with a goal of better outcomes for people in crisis. Of Thursday’s total announcements, $5.2 million is coming from police.

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The remaining $6.2 million comes from the city’s Community Safety Investment Framework, a one-time $8-million backing that could see more pending results.

Nenshi said the next city council will have the use the next budget cycle to determine the future of the CSIF.

Read more: Calgary Police $8M contribution to community safety investment framework to be decided in early 2021

“Most of the things that we’re funding are continuing things; they’re not one-time funding,” Nenshi said.

“It is continuing funding for work that needs to keep going, so we have to figure out how to manage that financially.

“I’m really happy that, rather than getting bogged down in the ‘What happens after this conversation?,’ the teams were really focused on getting the money out the door.”

Organizations like the Alpha House and its Downtown Outreach Addictions Partnership team — or “DOAP” team — will get $2.89 million.

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The Distress Centre will be getting $506,300 for enhancing services to those at risk for suicide and citizen education.

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The Alexandra Community Health Centre is getting just over $309,000 for an expansion of its mental health and addictions outreach initiative.

Read more: Coronavirus pandemic unexpectedly assists Calgary’s mental health and addiction strategy

More than 30 different organizations got funding to grow or bolster existing programs to help “advance equitable and effective crisis response systems and alternative ways to support Calgarians in crisis.”

“Through this, we want to create a system that provides Calgarians experiencing a crisis with access to the most appropriate crisis response services when and where and how they need them,” Nenshi said.

Around $360,000 will fund research into a “transformational crisis response system,” with another $1.8 million on hand to help implement the resulting recommendations.

The work dovetails the city’s anti-racism work and mental health action plan, the mayor said.

“What we’re trying to do is create a better system,” the mayor said. “In many cases, community organizations and nonprofit organizations are the right ones to deliver part of that system.

“And in some cases it really was about reinvesting in the police delivering better service in a different way.”

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Police adjustments

With police being such a critical part to the existing emergency response system, $2.2 million will be going to 16 program improvements internal to CPS, from its own budget reallocations.

“These were in response to calls we received from the community, in relation to enhancements or augmentation to services that were existing or new services,” Neufeld said.

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CPS will be adding six new civilian investigators to its Professional Standards Section, which investigates police conduct, “in response to concerns we heard about timeliness and issues around accountability and transparency with respect to the complaint system,” the police chief said.

Crisis intervention and anti-racism training, equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) work, improving BIPOC and female recruiting outreach, and a hate crime education pilot were some of the programs that got funding.

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And another $1.56 million will be going to expanding availability for teams that CPS has in partnership with Alberta Health Services: the Police and Crisis Team (PACT), providing citizens in crisis with mental health support, assessment and consultations, and the Mobile Response Team (MRT), which provides CPS officers with mental health crisis triage during calls.

Read more: ‘Eliminates that barrier’: Calgary mental health program covers counselling costs for eligible adults

“What we’ve seen with both PACT and MRT is a reduction in the number of people being apprehended under form 10 (Statement of Peace Officer on Apprehension) and conveyed to the hospital,” Neufeld said. “It’s very significant obviously in terms of police resources, EMS resources, and resources in the emergency room.

“I think it’s very important that we get the right people to the hospital, and equally, that we don’t get the wrong people to the hospital.”

MRT was previously available for 12 hours a day, and the new funding expanded that to 24 hours a day.

PACT teams will be doubled from six to 12, and will be available 22 hours a day.

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Neufeld said those two programs have proven track records.

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“In terms of probably some of the most complex cases or recurring cases with individuals who are returning to crisis and generating repeat calls for service, they develop relationships with these folks and they’re able to actually respond and start with a pre-established rapport, as opposed to having to go there as a new patrol officer and having to try to establish that from new every time.”

Alpha House expands services

With the year’s funding from CPS, Alpha House’s main DOAP team will be able to provide 24/7 services to some of the city’s most vulnerable populations. And an Indigenous team will be introduced in the fall thanks to the new funding, Alpha House executive director Kathy Christiansen told Global News.

“It’s just to bring cultural and traditional response to the work of the DOAP team and to enhance that, because a lot of the folks that we encounter during our work in that particular program are Indigenous,” Christiansen said. “So we’re really excited that we get to add that component.”

Alpha House plans to add new positions to address encampments with bylaw officers in all quadrants of the city. And there will be more DOAP team members working with Calgary Transit for outreach on train platforms to address disruptions and drug use.

Read more: New COVID-19 vaccine clinic opens for Calgary’s homeless population

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Christiansen called it a “significant expansion” of Alpha House’s work.

“I think there will be great benefit to the people that we serve,” she said.

The Alpha House executive director said the need for her organization’s services has stepped up during the pandemic.

“We’ve seen an increase in rough sleeping in the city, particularly since COVID(-19),” Christiansen said. “And so the team will be working on focusing on working with particular (people) and getting them into our housing programs.”

The desire from the city and CPS to see improved outcomes for individuals and alternative approaches to responding to people in crisis is front of mind for Christiansen. It’s an opportunity for Alpha House and partner enforcement agencies to learn over the next year.

“Given that Alpha House and our programs existed, it was a logical conversation to utilize the reallocation of police funding in this manner, given that we are established and have the capacity to expand and broaden our partnerships within the justice system.”

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