NEWS

Mentally ill still draining resources of Vancouver police: report

09/12/2011 06:42 EDT | Updated 11/12/2011 05:12 EST
VANCOUVER - Vancouver police are still spending too much time and resources dealing with the city's mentally ill, states a newly released report.

More than three years after police first identified the problem, the force has reiterated concerns that the health system is failing the mentally ill and draining police resources.

The report, titled "Policing Vancouver's Mentally Ill: The Disturbing Truth," was written a year ago but was not released until Monday. It said police are responding to chronically mentally ill and addicted individuals every day on Vancouver streets.

It also said suicides, attempted suicides and missing persons are consuming police resources and frustrating officers.

"I would still say we are in essence de facto mental health workers" Insp. Scott Thompson, the report's author, said during a news conference.

"That's part of the reality that policing in general has to accept, that this is what's occurring on the street. That's why we need to increase our training."

The report states police responded to about 16,500 calls for services in 2009.

And between Feb. 1, 2009 and Feb. 1, 2010, seven people who had previous dealings with police for mental health issues committed suicide, it adds.

"The police, however, are still responding day after day to 'difficult to manage' and 'treat' chronically mentally ill and addicted individuals on the streets of Vancouver," the report said.

"Other issues relating to suicide, suicide attempts and missing persons consume police resources, frustrate police and in some cases, endanger the lives and safety of patients, front-line police officers, other first responders and the public."

Written in September 2010 but only released to the public Monday, the report states police have seen some progress in areas like supported housing and moderate and long-term treatment for the mentally ill since 2008.

However, it lays the blame for the slow progress in other areas on "a lack of apparent will on the part of the health system in Vancouver" to work with police to solve the issues.

It also cites barriers to information sharing.

A similar report released by the Vancouver police in February 2008 announced one-third of all police calls in Vancouver involved one or more people suffering from mental illness and found a lack of "capacity" in the mental-health system.

Deputy Chief Warren Lemcke said the 2010 report was released Monday after a copy had been leaked.

He said the document was a "call to action" and meant to identify issues and open up dialogue with the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority.

"We wrote a report that identified issues and the purpose of that report was to bring the issues forward, the concerns that we had, and to get some action and that's what happened," he said.

Lemcke said he has seen some progress since 2008, noting that the force has trained about 800 police officers in crisis-intervention.

He said police are bringing more mentally ill people to hospital and hospitals are doing a better job at handling them.

Lorna Howes, director of mental health for Vancouver Coastal Health, said police and her organization have made some progress since September 2010, adding the report would look very different if it had been written recently.

She said police are spending less time waiting around with patients in hospital emergency rooms. But she also said the health authority can improve in areas like security.

"Although there is criticism in the report, there is no question about that, we also know that we actually need to come alongside the rest of our community ... and continue to focus on trying to provide what is the best care for people in the community," she said.

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