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Mental illness becoming ‘crisis’ for police: Chief
Delta’s chief of police says his department is neither trained nor equipped to deal with mental health issues and is calling on the province for more resources to tackle the problem.
“Mental health is becoming a huge concern in Delta and for communities right across Canada and there’s growing demands on police resources,” Chief Const. Jim Cessford said during a delegation before Delta Council last week.
Cessford said he brought those concerns to provincial Health Minister Terry Lake during the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in September.
“Unfortunately for us in the policing sector we’re often referred to as the de facto mental health providers and kind of the front line extension of the mental health system. And we should not be.”
According to a report titled “Mental Health and Suicide in Delta,” police responded to 138 suicide attempts over a 19-month period, 16 of which were successful.
Cessford said as front line workers the police aren’t equipped to deal with medical issues better handled by mental health care professionals.
“Sometimes, being the police, we have to, in some respects, make criminals of these people and arrest them for criminal acts, when oftentimes they’re probably not of sound mind to form criminal intent,” he said.
Cessford referred to a recent incident where a man who was “high on drugs” stole a car in Ladner, drove to Tsawwassen where he broke into a house, and then asked police to shoot and kill him when confronted. He wound up stabbing himself in the throat before being Tasered and rushed to hospital where his life was saved.
“We do run into these violent encounters in the street on many occasions because these people are at a crisis–or the tipping point if you will–and we’re left to deal with them,” he said.
Cessford also expressed concern regarding the growing trend in adolescent mental health cases. He said that recently the parents of a nine-year-old girl had to call the police because she was out of control and threatening them.
In 2008, the department partnered with Delta Mental Health to establish the Community Health Intervention Program (CHIP), which included the hiring of a full-time officer to tackle mental health. That officer, Const. Dan Simone, said caseload files have been steadily growing since the program’s inception, reaching 837 last year.
“What we do is we strive to get out there into the community to see these people, to visit them at their homes, to follow up and to case manage them so we can help them deal with their illness,” said Simone, who partners with Renata Arnold from Delta Mental Health and a liaison from Delta Hospital.
In March, Cessford and Simone will attend a conference in Toronto put on the Association of Chiefs of Police to help learn how to improve police interactions with people with mental illness.
According to 2012 statistics, approximately 6.7 million Canadians live with some form of mental illness, resulting in $20 billion in lost worker to the economy.
An additional mental health officer has been approved by the Delta Police Board and Delta Council. Simone said the next step is to set up a 24-hour “early intervention” team which would treat Delta residents with anxiety and depression before those symptoms manifest themselves in more severe ways.
That means more resources are needed from the province for more doctors and psychiatric nurses, said Simone.
Council sent a letter, along with Cessford’s report, inviting Health Minister Terry Lake to discuss the issue further.