Toronto police say Gerstein Crisis Centre will assist officers in responding to people calling 911 with mental health needs that are considered non-emergency, in a pilot project scheduled to begin late summer.
Gerstein Crisis Centre (GCC) is a well-established, 24-hour, community-based crisis response centre in Toronto that has been chosen to assist the force, police said.
Police said the pilot project will see officers and the centre work collaboratively “but distinctly” to divert non-emergency mental health-related calls away from a police response.
The project will see call-takers evaluate incoming calls, based on specific criteria, and then transfer them to GCC crisis workers. These workers will be located at Toronto police’s communications call centre, the force said.
“Gerstein Crisis Centre believes strongly that a model in which the earliest intervention for mental health needs are provided by a mental health worker rather than the police service can provide opportunities to access the services people want and need, leverage help sooner, reduce stigma and unnecessary police involvement,” said GCC executive director Susan Davis.
The pilot project will primarily support downtown neighbourhoods within 41, 51 and 52 division, police said.
The move comes as Toronto police came under fire following an incident in May 2020 involving a 29-year-old woman in High Park who fell to her death from a 24th-floor apartment balcony after officers responded to a mental health crisis call. A lawyer representing Regis Korchinski-Paquet’s family said the mother had called 911 because her daughter was in distress over a family conflict and the call was made out of “safety” and “concern.”
Several protests followed, calling for better interventions for mental health calls.
Toronto’s CAMH, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, said police officers should not be the first responders to a mental health crisis or person in mental health distress. CAMH said that a “new direction in crisis care” should be implemented and based on international models, in which those in crisis are “first met by mental health responders.”
Earlier this year, Toronto city council approved the framework for a pilot project that will see the creation of a mobile crisis assistance intervention service in multiple parts of the city.
Toronto Police said it gets about 30,000 mental health-related calls every year. The force said the pilot project aims to connect people in crisis with better resources and reduce the need for police response when possible.
The crisis workers will be available 20 hours a day, seven days a week, police said.
The cost for the pilot project, estimated at $522,000, will be absorbed by the force’s operating budget, police said.
— with files from Jessica Patton, Nick Westoll and Ryan Rocca