Advocates hopeful about recommended changes on B.C. policing, mental health

Click to play video: 'New all-party policing report says it is time to deal differently with mental health calls'
New all-party policing report says it is time to deal differently with mental health calls
Thursday's all-party report on policing draws attention to the issues of policing and mental health. The report says it is time to think and act differently about dealing with mentally ill people. For years, police have been saying many of the calls they make involve mentally ill people, and they do not have the right training. Could it be time to triage 9-1-1 calls differently? Rumina Daya reports. – Apr 29, 2022

Mental health advocates say they are optimistic about recommendations in sweeping review of the way policing and public safety are handled in British Columbia.

The report, produced by an all-party committee and tabled in the B.C. legislature Thursday, proposes the creation of a new provincial police force governed by a new Community Safety and Policing Act.

It also makes a number of direct recommendations around the intersection of mental health issues and police, starting by creating and funding a “continuum of response” with a priority on prevention and community-led responses.

Click to play video: 'Committee recommends changes to B.C. police mental health calls'
Committee recommends changes to B.C. police mental health calls

The report calls for the integration of mental health services into 911 call options, and boosting coordination and integration between police and health, mental health and social services.

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It also calls for the creation of provincial standards and policies for calls responding to people in crisis and for welfare checks.

The report also cites the success of “Car” programs an initiative that pairs mental health professionals with police officers in several B.C. cities to respond to mental health calls.

It recommends “adopting a dynamic and flexible approach to policing that provides for different categories of policing and public safety personnel who have clearly defined roles, responsibilities, and functions such as responding to non-violent incidents and other situations that may not require uniformed police.”

Committee chair and government MLA Doug Routley said he’d like to see the “Car” programs expanded and made more accessible across the province.

“We heard from a lot of jurisdictions  who have used different models in delivering service that have had a different priority in terms of first response that re very successful,” he said.

Click to play video: 'Wally Oppal on reforming B.C’s Police Act'
Wally Oppal on reforming B.C’s Police Act

“That doesn’t mean that police aren’t involved. Many mental health service providers said they couldn’t do the job without the police. But it’s the fact that the police are left without the adequate resources and training to be able to handle that. The best way we though was to be able to integrate those.”

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Jonny Morris, CEO of the Canadian Mental Health Association’s B.C. division said the fact the report spent 10 pages on the topic of mental health was encouraging.

“There’s a recipe there, there’s some marching orders there, there’s some real clarity around the recommendations,” he said.

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He said boosting investment in initiatives like the “Car” programs was valuable, but that social service responses that do not involve police are equally, if not more important.

Morris pointed to the success of a new peer-led care team in North Vancouver called North Shore PACT he said had already handled 250 calls since its launch in November, 2021.

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Click to play video: 'B.C. committee recommends ditching RCMP, creating provincial force'
B.C. committee recommends ditching RCMP, creating provincial force

“And they haven’t had to reply on police, which has meant that resources are freed up for police to attend to other things going forward,” he said.

“So we do need to fill up that entire toolbox, including this real emphasis on civilian, community-led responses that was articulated in the report.”

Stacy Ashton, executive director of the Crisis Center of B.C., said she was pleased the committee saw the importance of trying to reduce the interaction of police and emergency rooms with people experiencing mental health crises.

She said the most cost-effective and perhaps most important recommendation to implement is the integration of crisis line services into the 911 system.

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“911 and BC Ambulance, they need to be able to dispatch, they can’t take the time it takes to unpack a crisis with someone and unpack what they really need to do,” she said.

“Their calls need to be two or three minutes long. Our calls can be 15 minutes to 20 minutes to a half an hour.”

Click to play video: 'B.C. committee recommends ditching RCMP, creating provincial force'
B.C. committee recommends ditching RCMP, creating provincial force

Ashton said the vast majority of mental health calls her organization handles can be addressed over the phone, with as few as two per cent requiring someone to attend the incident in person.

She said when someone is deployed, it doesn’t need to be police.

“These are people who need a personal contact, but the only thing we have to go with at 3 a.m. is police,” she said.

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“Police don’t have a lot of things they can do once they get there, they really have to make a choice between leaving somebody where they are or taking them to the hospital — and if that person doesn’t need to go to the hospital, well it’s kind of a revolving door that happens.”

Terry Teegee, regional chief for B.C. Assembly of First Nations, said he was encouraged to see the focus on funding for mental health and shifting the emphasis away from police response in cases affecting Indigenous communities.

“It’s certainly needed in regards to policing, especially in regards to many cases we know where police officers are ill equipped to deal with mental health issues,” he said.

“So really identifying it as an issue and doing something about it in terms of having perhaps advisers and legislation back up what is already known I think is really important, and perhaps this is the necessary change that is required.”

British Columbia Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth says the province’s NDP government will discuss the report’s recommendations in the coming months with Indigenous partners, community organizations, health and mental-health groups, police leadership, agencies and police oversight bodies.

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