Victoria Police Chief Del Manak is excited about upcoming discussions at Victoria’s committee of the whole meeting on Thursday, June 18. (Black Press Media file photo)

VicPD exploring alternative models of response to mental health, homelessness calls

Victoria Police Chief Del Manak welcomes upcoming discussions

Victoria Police Chief Del Manak is welcoming discussions surrounding how police and others can do better in terms of mental health, addiction and homelessness-related calls. With some programs already in place in Victoria, he noted the additional funds needed for social and mental health services cannot come at the expense of the Victoria Police Department.

In response to an upcoming committee of the whole meeting on June 18, Manak released a statement addressing a motion asking City staff to review programs used in other regions to address these types of calls.

“Over recent years, police agencies have been required to fill the void created by gaps in social programs, which often places police officers in an untenable position,” Manak said in the statement. “Often, the police are the only ones left to call in situations where a social worker or mental health professional could have been more appropriate.”

READ MORE: Mental Health – A look at a fractured system

One of the programs mentioned in the motion has been operating for 30 years in Eugene and Springford, Ore. Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets, or CAHOOTS as it is commonly referred to, is a model the Victoria Police Department began researching approximately a year-and-a-half ago, including dialogue with the civilian director and the Eugene Police Department. Manak noted VicPD has learned about some promising aspects of the program and he is looking forward to discussing it.

CAHOOTS teams respond to calls with strong behavioural health components that do not initially require law enforcement because they don’t involve legal issues or threat of violence. The team assess the individual and the situation, assisting if possible, and then helps get that individual to a higher level of care or service if that’s required. The Eugene Police Department has seen a reduction in police response to mental health calls but is still required to respond when there is a risk of violence.

READ MORE: Motion to consider alternatives to policing social issues coming to Victoria council

Manak noted in Victoria, there are already similar programs operating, including the Integrated Mobile Crisis Response Team and the Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) teams. But these models have one key difference and that is police officers embedded as one member of these multi-disciplinary teams. As Manak noted, in B.C., police officers are the only ones who can apprehend someone and bring them to a physician for a mental health assessment.

The ACT program has three dedicated plainclothes officers, and a recent University of Victoria study on the effectiveness of the team showed that it works.

“We need more of these alternative programs, which is why we reduced service in other areas in the department to ensure the ACT program was able to continue and why I am excited about the discussions that Victoria city council is having,” Manak said.

While he acknowledged the need to provide additional resources for social and mental health services, he noted this cannot come at the expense of police funding. “Serving the provincial capital of B.C. and the business and entertainment hub of the Greater Victoria region, VicPD already struggles to provide the level of community-based policing and 911 call response that our citizens expect,” he added.

Any new models considered by City staff need to be evidence-based and research-informed with demonstrated outcomes, he said.

ALSO READ: Mental Health in Greater Victoria

ALSO READ: Greater Victoria’s opioid crisis


 

katie.e@blackpress.ca

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