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‘Concerning’ incident at White Rock MLA’s office highlights gaps in mental-health services: RCMP

‘We can’t look the other way,’ says Trevor Halford
White Rock RCMP say an incident at MLA Trevor Halford’s office on Dec. 8 highlights the challenges of helping people whose criminal or otherwise concerning activities are clearly tied to mental health and substance use. (File photo)

White Rock’s top Mountie says an incident Dec. 8 at Surrey-White Rock MLA Trevor Halford’s office highlights the ongoing challenges of helping people whose criminal or otherwise concerning activities are clearly tied to mental health and substance use.

Police were called to Halford’s office, located at 101-1493 Johnston Rd., at around 2 p.m. Wednesday, after a man in his 50s began “loudly hitting a five-foot-long plastic pipe against the wall outside.”

The same man had been at the office earlier “yelling about housing issues,” Staff Sgt. Kale Pauls noted.

But while his actions during the return visit “would have been a concerning sight for anyone,” Pauls said they point to a bigger issue.

“It was apparent that the behaviour displayed was related to despair over not having a warm place to stay during the nights, combined with a serious and persistent mental illness,” he writes in a Dec. 9 email to Peace Arch News.

Noting police in both Surrey and White Rock have interacted with the same man more than 100 times this year alone – with some of those interactions resulting in apprehension or arrest – Pauls said everyone at the scene Wednesday afternoon recognized that an arrest wasn’t the answer, and that “we… did not have the capacity to offer a long-term solution.”

It’s not the first time that Pauls, as head of the White Rock detachment, has spoken out about gaps that exist for serving such individuals. He issued a call for a healthcare-led intervention model in August of 2020, citing a woman who had been reported to police more than 65 times that year as an example of the need.

“In my perspective, it would be more beneficial to have a specialized health-centred response that actually incorporates the police only in limited circumstances,” Pauls told Peace Arch News at the time.

READ MORE: White Rock’s top cop calls for ‘healthcare led intervention model’

For Halford, who is Official Opposition critic for Mental Health and Addictions, Wednesday’s incident fuelled his desire to see a change in how the system, and society in general, treats individuals who are struggling with mental illness.

“This gentleman has been in this community for a number of years,” Halford said Thursday. “He’s been going through a hard time for most of his life. We have an obligation to step up and help him.”

Halford on Wednesday facilitated a “private makeshift shelter that had heat” as a temporary measure for the man, but said he “strongly advocates” for more comprehensive support, including an expansion of programs like Car 67 into White Rock.

Car 67 is a mobile crisis-response unit that pairs Surrey Mounties with psychiatric nurses, in partnership with Fraser Health, to respond to mental health calls in that city. In the first half of this year, the team responded to 338 calls for service.

READ MORE: Surrey Mounties responded to 3,064 mental health calls in first half of 2021

Halford said such a program is “something that we need today,” but that budgeting and staffing resources are often what stand in the way.

Its expansion received support from the Union of B.C. Municipalities earlier this year, after White Rock council submitted two resolutions related to the issue, in hopes of improving current policies regarding police presence in response to mental-health crises.

One asked the province to establish an integrated regional model for a mobile crisis response car program similar to the ‘Car 67’ program. The second asked the UBCM to endorse a call to the provincial government to allow municipalities to bill health authorities for any police officer attendance at hospitals, in such situations, that exceeds 30 minutes.

Both were endorsed, according to a Sept. 15 list of resolution decisions posted to, but it’s unclear if any definitive steps are underway to put things in motion.

Fraser Health officials said Friday that there are no plans to support a formal mental-health car program in any other Fraser Health communities at this time. However, “we will continue to work with the RCMP on an ongoing basis to support the White Rock community with access to appropriate mental health and substance use services.”

Halford said his heart broke for the man at the centre of Wednesday’s incident. The man apologized, he added, and Halford said it’s obvious he wants to access help, but simply doesn’t know how.

He lauded the compassion and respect shown by the RCMP, and said more of that is needed, too.

“This individual is not choosing to be in this state, he is in this state,” Halford said.

“This was somebody’s child and I think this could be somebody’s dad, and we can’t look the other way.

“It’s something I’m not going to drop or take my eyes off of.”
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Tracy Holmes

About the Author: Tracy Holmes

Tracy Holmes has been a reporter with Peace Arch News since 1997.
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