White Rock’s top cop says his detachment has become a “default mental health response agency” and that this reality – of routinely responding to calls that are more appropriate for a healthcare professional – “denies people in crisis a proper service.”
In a report released Monday (Oct. 19) – titled ‘The intersection of mental health and policing in White Rock’ – Staff Sgt. Kale Pauls shares statistics and recommendations for change, including one suggesting that the City of White Rock start billing Fraser Health for mental-health apprehensions in which waits for assessment at Peace Arch Hospital exceed 30 minutes.
“The prioritizing at hospitals of mental health apprehensions for assessment has been problematic across many hospitals and is not isolated to White Rock,” Pauls notes in the report.
He explains that at Peace Arch Hospital, patients apprehended under the Mental Health Act (MHA) wait – in police custody – anywhere from 2.5 to six hours in emergency to be assessed by a doctor, while the maximum wait recommended by the Canadian Triage and Acuity Scale that is used to prioritize emergency patients is 30 minutes for mental-health complaints.
A review of White Rock detachment files found that, annually, the city’s officers respond to around 150 such calls, resulting in approximately 375 hours of police time being spent at PAH waiting with such patients, rendering those officers unable to respond to other calls, including priority emergencies.
“As this issue has persisted for years, the White Rock RCMP suggests that the City of White Rock invoices Fraser Health in 15 minute increments for any mental health apprehension waits that exceed 30 minutes.”
Noting the billing practice aligns with that of BC Ambulance Service – which invoices hospitals for any waits in emergency that exceed 30 minutes – Pauls says the city following suit becomes a matter of fiscal accountability.
But the issue goes deeper than operational finances, Pauls says.
The current police-response model that sees officers tasked out for reports of deteriorating mental health, suicidal thoughts and other wellness checks or MHA apprehensions “does not benefit some of society’s most vulnerable,” and, highlights “that our healthcare professionals need the support and mandate to deliver a robust frontline response.”
Pauls initiated a review of his detachment’s wellness checks, mental health calls and interactions with homeless people “to better understand why the police are taking on the responsibility of social and health issues that likely should be responded to by other specialized service providers.”
The review was underway when Pauls in August called for a “healthcare-led intervention model” for dealing with people whose criminal activities are clearly tied to mental health and substance use. That call followed the arrest of a woman who had been reported to White Rock RCMP more than 65 times in 2020 as of that month.
Pauls said at that time that with no system in place for people to report mental-health concerns that would invoke a more appropriate, specialized response, “it falls upon the police.”
Other statistics shared in his report include that White Rock RCMP responds to approximately 6,600 calls for service every year, with an estimated one-third of those related to mental health, including substance use.
Other conclusions include that police response is rarely appropriate for calls from supported-care facilities regarding a senior resident displaying violent behaviour; and, that it is “unfair” to expect frontline officers to have the advanced mental health assessment skills necessary to properly service the diverse needs of those in a health crisis.
“The police role should be limited to imminent crisis intervention where safety is a concern, and not mental health assessments and mental health guidance, which is unreasonable to place upon the police,” Pauls says.
Further recommendations Pauls makes include having a mobile mental-health crisis response service for the region, staffed only by mental-health professionals who may request police assistance as deemed necessary; and, that Fraser Health’s advanced sobering and assessment centre, Quibble Creek, be expanded to welcome intoxicated subjects transported by White Rock RCMP.
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