Kelowna mayor wants more mental health services working with police - InfoNews

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Kelowna mayor wants more mental health services working with police

RCMP Const. Lacy Browning is being sued by UBCO Mona Wang.
Image Credit: YOUTUBE
June 24, 2020 - 6:00 PM

Video footage of a UBC Okanagan student being dragged from her apartment by a Mountie caught Kelowna’s Mayor off guard.

“I felt a range of emotions, from disappointment to anger and also some sadness,” Colin Basran said. “Particularly when I think this was a mental health wellness check — someone was in distress and needing help.”

Imagining, he said, it was someone he knew and loved who was in need of treatment makes it all the more heartrending.

That said, viewed from the lens of mayor, Basran said that the city has a great relationship with RCMP and the two organizations work together on areas of mutual interest, such as addressing the mental health needs in the community.

“It’s one of the top priorities of council,” he said.

His council used one of the few levers of control they have over the RCMP to impact change.

READ MORE: Reaction to wellness check

The City of Kelowna dedicates close to 30 per cent of its budget to policing and, yearly, deliberates on whether more money can be spent on hiring more officers, something that’s continually requested by the city’s top cop.

In 2017, council directed funding to the Police and Crisis Team — a mobile mental health and substance use crisis intervention team that provides an enhanced community response to people experiencing a mental health and/or substance use crisis.

The PACT consists of a nurse with mental health and substance use training and a specially trained RCMP officer who patrols the streets and responds to calls. The team assesses needs and connect the person in crisis with appropriate services.

Ideally, that team would have gotten the call that Mona Wang needed a wellness check Jan. 20.

“They have been doing a phenomenal job responding to those types of calls,” Basran said. “However those calls are getting greater in numbers, so we need more mental health resources to deal with these calls.”

Council has since sought a second PACT team but there's been an odd hold up. Basran said he has been told another officer is ready and waiting to fill that job description but the local RCMP are waiting for the psychiatric nurse component from Interior Health.

That was news to Interior Health spokesperson Susan Duncan. She said the health authority hasn’t been asked to provide a second psych nurse for the PACT program, but in addition to the nurse that is already working with police, they provide Crisis Response, a team that consists of nurses and social workers who work in pairs and work seven days per week, working 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.

“At times, this team will also support RCMP members with calls by attending with the members or by providing support or consultation over the telephone,” Duncan said. “We continue to have ongoing discussions with the RCMP in regards to how we can support community needs in a collaborative manner. We also engage in ongoing discussions with the RCMP and the City of Kelowna to ensure we are directing available resources to meet pressing demands.”

While mental health needs are becoming more of an issue in policing across Canada and the U.S., Basran said he believes the local RCMP is up to the job, despite two high profile incidents of alleged police brutality.

“I don’t believe that the unfortunate actions of two individual officers reflect on how everyone behaves,” Basran said.

The video that has been circulating widely was released Monday and has gained widespread condemnation in the court of popular opinion.

In it, a woman identified as Mona Wang can be seen with hands cuffed behind her back, being dragged, on her stomach, down a hallway of her Academy Way apartment building by an RCMP officer identified as Const. Lacy Browning.

Once in the lobby, the officer can be seen at one point stepping on Wang's head then later lifting it. They appear to have a conversation and eventually, Wang is lifted up and walks with Const. Browning from the building.

While the video was only released this week, the matter has been making its way through the courts since March 26 when Wang filed a civil lawsuit addressing the Jan. 20 incident. The RCMP responded earlier this month.

Wang's lawsuit indicates she was in distress and was abused in her moment of need by the very people who are supposed to protect her, while the RCMP says the officer at the centre of the controversy was doing her job as expected, given Wang's erratic behaviour which included what appears to be a suicide attempt and "asking to be killed" by the officer.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Kathy Michaels or call 250-718-0428 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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