There’s a new beat at Nanaimo police detachment.
Nanaimo Mounties have launched a new mental health liaison position as they grapple with a rising number of mental health calls.
Mental health-related calls rose 69 per cent between 2014-16, the RCMP reports, and those increasing calls are not only drawing on police resources but are seen as a community safety issue.
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In 2014 the City of Nanaimo considered itself the first in B.C. and Canada to name mental health as a cause of man-made hazards in its Hazard Risk and Vulnerability Analysis, as a result of the volume of calls to police and ties to bomb threats, suicide and arson. Last year, core review consultants recommended a long-term wellness strategy to address social disorder and promote social wellness, while also pointing out that police provide the only 24-hour-a-day response to non-criminal calls, but have limited training and tools to deal with them.
In other jurisdictions, it said, police are supplemented by social workers, mental health professionals and social workers, which can expand skills and resources for better service, and suggested the city could facilitate and co-ordinate resources.
It’s not known what the city’s position is on the core review suggestion as city manager Tracy Samra did not respond to a request for comment. But former Nanaimo RCMP Insp. Sorab Rupa and Dr. Paul Hasselback, Island Health’s medical health officer for Central Island, recognize no one alone is responsible for the mental health issue in Nanaimo and like the idea of a strategy.
Rupa told the News Bulletin that police are seeing more and more people on the mental health continuum, some 25 times or more, and there’s a need for a well-defined, integrated plan from wherever the start is, like police interaction or psychiatric services, to post-release and long-term care. A lot of police resources are going to mental health and he said it’s not like they’re going to solve it.
“We are not going to solve this because we are not mental health care providers, we are not long-term support. We can’t give them a place to stay. We can’t make sure they take their medication. We can’t follow up with them,” he said. “We need the integrated plan to make sure the person we get a hit from is actually looked after, stabilized and we have less contact with them.”
Cpl. Brigitte Goguen, new mental health liaison officer, is the detachment’s response to the mental health issue.
Nanaimo RCMP Insp. Lisa Fletcher said the position was created out of necessity. General duty members are going to a number of calls daily with a mental health component and it takes time to find effective solutions. Having one person who has community connections can help facilitate solutions more readily, she said.
The detachment has considered having mental health workers ride along with police, but Fletcher said there currently aren’t the staffing levels and a request for an additional mental health position was not approved.
Goguen’s mandate is to reduce calls to police and decrease the criminalization of people with a mental illness by facilitating a collaborative, consistent and co-ordinated approach to address their needs, an RCMP information sheet says.
She’ll work with partners like Forensic Mental Health, Psychiatric Emergency Services and community outreach teams and will share information about risks connected to safety issues for clients or the public.
She’ll be able to make sure police have a heads up about whom they might encounter and how best to deal with them. Goguen told the News Bulletin she can mark people on her system with certain flags that show, for example, a person is on the autism spectrum and a trigger that would make them anxious, potentially violent and have an outburst is if they are spoken to by more than one person at once. She said if police were aware that person needs focused attention, it would lead to a better response to police interaction.
Goguen will also be an advocate for more resources, prevention and support for people with mental illnesses.
She said her hope is she can deal with people before they reach crisis points or get entrenched in crime, addiction or harmful behavior, by noticing, for example, when there are high calls for service and bringing in community resources.
“I’m going into it knowing it’s a really, really big issue in Nanaimo and that I can’t fix everything, but I can make sure that our detachment is as open to working with other partners as possible,” said Goguen.
Hasselback said there’s a significant group of people who not only need health system support, but when they have episodes they often come in contact with the justice and social systems, and also benefit from quality housing. It’s not a health, city or criminal justice issue alone, he said.
“We need to be working more closely together,” said Hasselback, who calls the new officer position “great.”
“I think we’re going to find as soon as we have one position in that it’s not going to be enough, but we won’t get enough of a team together until we start with one position.”