A new partnership between Owen Sound Police and the Canadian Mental Health Association Grey Bruce will alter the way local police officers handle mental health calls.
The two organizations officially launched the Mobile Mental Health and Addiction Response Team yesterday, a new crisis intervention initiative which will see CMHA mental health workers embedded with police to aid with mental-health related calls the city police service receives.
According to a joint-statement from Owen Sound Police and CMHA Grey Bruce, under this new program a mental health professional will accompany plain-clothed police officers on mental health calls for service in order to help police de-escalate situations, determine whether there's a need to apprehend someone under the Mental Health Act or divert an individual to community-based mental health supports.
CMHA Grey Bruce CEO Clark MacFarlane explains the MMHART team will be called to a situation when needed after a uniformed officer has already responded. Clark explains the uniformed officer would first clear the site to ensure it's safe for the mental health worker and non-uniform officers to take over and work to de-escalate the situation.
MacFarlane says the reason for launching the program is two-fold: the system was seeing people were needing better care and intervention, and an increase in the amount of mental health and addictions related calls police were seeing.
"By pairing officers with a mental health and addiction worker, we can intervene earlier and avoid the emergency department visit, which is much better for the individual, and better for utilization of police services and emergency services," MacFarlane says.
Owen Sound Police Detective Const. Chris Hartley says in the first six months of 2019 officers responded to 487 mental health-related calls for service, a spike of nearly 87 per cent in volume compared to the 261 mental health-related calls in the same period in 2018.
Owen Sound Police Chief Craig Ambrose says the significant increase in mental health-related calls recently forced the police service to start to look at things differently.
"It's not sustainable financially and it's not sustainable for our officers," Ambrose says.
Ambrose explains this initiative can help save money in the long run by avoiding apprehension in situations through de-escalation, which frees up hospital resources and also police officers' time previously spent at hospitals. He notes officers can be tied up for hours at the hospital on some mental health-related calls for service, as the Mental Health Act requires officers to remain with the individual apprehended until transfer of custody to hospital occurs.
Ambrose says this new partnership ensures the right response for people in crisis or those who need assistance.
"Police officers aren't necessarily the right ones. They're the ones who are always available and the ones who get called," Ambrose explains. This is about putting the right people in the right place and being able to provide that (assistance) in a timely manner."