Combining police with nurses for mental health calls isn't new; B.C.'s first came in 1978 - InfoNews

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Combining police with nurses for mental health calls isn't new; B.C.'s first came in 1978

In 2014 Kamloops' Car 40 partners, Const. Kale Pauls (left) and RN Kirk Sullivan (right) followed on the heels of Vancouver's Car 87 program.
July 09, 2020 - 5:00 PM

As the City of Kelowna and Interior Health continue to discuss the role of police and nurses in dealing with mental health calls, they can look to the Vancouver Police Department for some guidance.

It was in 1978 when that police department first paired a police officer with a nurse for this purpose in what was dubbed Car 87.

A similar program, called Car 40, started in Kamloops in 2014 while the Police and Crisis Team (PACT) was launched in Kelowna in 2017.

Kelowna's PACT team was not called in when a single officer responded to a request for a wellness check in January. That led to UBCO student Mona Wang being handcuffed and dragged through a hallway. She has launched a lawsuit against the officer. The incident is under investigation by Abbotsford police.

Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran has asked for Interior Health’s support to expand the PACT team while Karen Bloemink, vice-president for clinical operations for Interior Health has questioned whether it’s the most efficient use of the nurses’ time.

READ MORE: iN VIDEO: RCMP investigating Kelowna officer caught on video dragging nursing student

READ MORE: Kelowna mayor wants more mental health services working with police

READ MORE:Interior Health isn't yet on board with expanding mental health teams with RCMP

While no one was available from the Vancouver Police Department to discuss their programs, the fact that Car 87 was a trial project that was formalized in 1987 and is now operating with four full-time police officers providing coverage for 21 hours a day, seven days a week, shows it has some value for that department.

Kelowna’s program operates four days a week and averages four calls a day. No data was provided on how many calls Vancouver’s Car 87 handles but the 2016 Vancouver Police Mental Health Strategy outlines its purpose and some of the other mental health initiatives in that city.

“Crisis intervention through Car 87 typically provides a mental health assessment for clients without a previously documented mental health background,” the report states. “They also . . . assist in locating clients for apprehension and for transport to a designated facility. In addition, Car 87 provides support to front line Patrol members and assists the Crisis Negotiation Team with mental health backgrounds when required. The complete team includes psychiatric nurses, a clinical supervisor, support staff, and VPD members.”

The Crisis Negotiation Team has 24 members, largely dealing with mental health issues. Another 10 specially trained police officers work on a mental health unit that partners with health care professionals to support people with mental illnesses.

Two other officers work with Assertive Community Treatment teams made up of psychiatrists, social workers, nurses, vocational counsellors, occupational therapists, recreational therapists, and peer counsellors.

Another four officers work with an Assertive Outreach Team to work with a small number of people who may be moving from hospital or jail into another living environment.

All this is being done at a time when the call for police intervention in mental health cases is rising dramatically.

The 2016 report says that apprehensions by Vancouver police jumped 490 per cent from 360 in 1999 to 1,743 in 2007. More recently, the report cites an 18 per cent increase from 2012 to 2013.

By comparison, there was a 14 per cent increase in RCMP apprehensions from 2,220 in 2016 to 2,568 in 2019 in the Southeast District of the Interior. That stretches roughly from Clearwater to the Alberta and U.S. borders and contains close to 800,000 people.

Kelowna and Kamloops each have one officer on their Car 40 and PACT teams but Interior Health also has other teams of professionals working with people with mental health issues.

Southeast Division Chief Supt. Brad Haugli has suggested the police only be used as back-up resources instead of front line responders to mental health calls.

READ MORE: Interior RCMP brass call for more mental health workers to help police in light of video

The Vancouver Police Department has also been the leader in B.C. when it comes to training officers on mental health issues, developing its first course in 2002.

Called the Crisis Intervention Training program, it was given to all front line officers.

“At the time, it was the only course of its kind available in B.C. and focused on understanding mental illness, how mental illness can affect behaviour, understanding crises, and included a component of input from people with lived mental health experience,” the report states.

In 2011, the province developed what it called Crisis Intervention and De-escalation Training, modelled after the Vancouver program.

According to a 2018 Canadian Mental Health Association report, that program is mandatory for all first responder police officers and frontline police supervisors in B.C. It consists of an initial two-week training course plus one-week refresher courses every three years.

The CMHA report is called Interfaces Between Mental Health and Substance Use Services and Police.

It describes itself as: “A toolkit for police agencies and health authorities to guide them in working together to address the needs of people with mental health and/or substance use issues,” and can be viewed here.

See the Vancouver Police Mental Health Strategy here.

Neither report deals with the questions of why the mental health calls to police are increasing or which of the various programs are more effective.

Certainly things like the COVID-19 pandemic trigger more calls. The Interior Crisis Line saw a 25 per cent increase in calls between mid-March and the end of May. That included a 40 per cent increase in mental health calls.

READ MORE: Stress on B.C. Interior residents is increasing the longer COVID-19 continues

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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