The City of White Rock is submitting two resolutions to the Union of B.C. Municipalities in hopes of improving current policies regarding police presence in response to mental health crises.
The city is calling for the UBCM to ask the province to establish an integrated regional model for a mobile crisis response car program similar to the ‘Car 67’ program currently provided by Surrey RCMP in co-ordination with the province and Fraser Health.
That program teams a mental health practitioner with a police officer to provide immediate – and more appropriate – assessment when someone in distress is brought to the attention of police and hospitalization is required.
White Rock’s argument is that a regional program could provide a consistent service for the public, without being limited by municipal boundaries.
White Rock is also asking 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 goes over 30 minutes.
Both resolutions were passed unanimously at council’s May 10 regular meeting following a motion from Coun. Anthony Manning.
“This is an increasing need in our community, and it’s becoming an inordinate drain on our RCMP detachment’s resources – this really needs our attention,” Manning said.
In addition to the resolutions, the city will also write to the province and regional health authorities requesting these changes. Letters will also be sent to the UBCM and the Lower Mainland Local Government Association – and all Metro Vancouver municipalities, individually – seeking support for the resolutions.
Under B.C.’s current Mental Health Act police are required to stay at the hospital with the person in need until they are in the care of a physician, city chief administrative officer Guillermo Ferrero explained to council in a written report.
But with wait times of anywhere from two-and-a-half to six hours, he said, an individual suffering from a mental health condition remains, effectively, in police custody, while the assigned officer is unable to attend to other duties.
“There is a stigmatization and a perception of criminalization when a person is in police custody, and in many circumstances, this is not the case,” Ferrero said.
A regional mobile crisis response car program would be more effective for both the police and health care authorities, he added.
“Many apprehensions could be avoided if a mental health practitioner was available to conduct an on scene assessment, as it would often avoid the need to defer to the emergency powers under the MHA.”
In comments to council, White Rock RCMP detachment commander Staff Sgt. Kale Pauls paid tribute to hospital emergency and psychiatric unit staff at Peace Arch Hospital.
“They’re very knowledgeable and professional individuals and we greatly appreciate their service,” he said, adding that issues of police time being used in mental health apprehensions were “secondary” to the main intent of improving response to public need.
“This is about a parent or children, our friends that are in an acute mental health crisis, being in police custody for unreasonable amounts of time due to the nature of the system,” he said.
“In terms of the costs of having an integrated mental health crisis car, this just means that people in crisis will receive more of a health-based response. As police, we primarily give a risk-based response assessment and this is not what many clients are asking for when they call 9-11.”