Alberta to expand rollout of app that helps police respond to mental health calls

An Edmonton Police Services logo is shown at a press conference in Edmonton on Oct. 2, 2017. The Alberta government will provide an additional $1.6 million to create a new tool designed to help police officers respond to mental health crises. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson. JF

The Alberta government will continue the rollout of a program designed to help police officers respond to mental health crises.

The digital program, named HealthIM, will give police officers information to help someone experiencing a mental health emergency. The program will also help increase officers’ safety and ensure effective use of emergency resources, the province said.

The Edmonton Police Service (EPS) will be the first police service to start using HealthIM beginning in July, and the Alberta government plans to expand the program to other areas over the next year in a phased approach.

Approximately $1.6 million was allocated in Budget 2022 to fund the app.

“We know that the police must be an integral part of the recovery-oriented system of care that we are building,” Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Mike Ellis told reporters on Tuesday afternoon.

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“We’re creating a comprehensive system of care that has included police at the centre of the process.”

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Calgary police chief Mark Neufeld

Lana Bentley, YW Calgary’s director of special projects, said mental wellness and addiction care need to be a concerted collaborative approach.

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Bentley said mental wellness and community-building require partnerships among service providers and service users, and police can be a part of the solution.

“It’s really important that we’re developing different solutions and approaches to make sure that you have a really broad cross-section of people contributing to that dialogue,” Bentley said.

“There is a desire for mental health to be a consideration for our partners and law enforcement.”

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Bentley said service providers need to bring these concerns to racialized communities.

“What works best is when those groups are at the table so that their unique barriers and unique ideas of what solutions look like can inform how our programming is developed.”

At the Tuesday announcement, the province was asked how it plans to bridge the gap between police and Black, Indigenous and other racialized communities. For years, advocates have demanded more transparency and accountability within police forces across Canada.

These concerns were heightened during protests after the police-shooting deaths of Chantel Moore in New Brunswick and Ejaz Choudry in Ontario. In both cases, the police were responding to calls for wellness checks from the victims’ families.

“The vast majority of incidents that we attend… aren’t necessarily called to us as a ‘mental health call,'” explained Acting EPS Chief Ron Anderson. “We take a lot of different calls that may have a mental health application to them.

“This tool isn’t just designed to be used during a purely mental health call. It’s designed to be used in any situation where the officer can use the risk-based toolset to make appropriate decisions of what to do to connect the individual with the care they need.”

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Justice Minister Tyler Shandro said the province is working with communities where people of colour are giving feedback to police services.

“We’re looking for opportunities to work with communities to be able to appoint a special advisor to work with us and look at ways in which we can further respond as a province to addressing hate crimes,” Shandro said.

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