NEWS
10/24/2020 16:14 EDT

Peel, Ont. Mental Health Rapid Response Teams Led To Hundreds Fewer Being Detained: Police

Last year, the service as a whole was much more likely to detain someone experiencing a crisis.

The Canadian Press
People hold signs outside Peel Regional Police Headquarters during a justice rally for Ejaz Choudry.

Hundreds of fewer people in mental health crises are being detained by Peel police since new mental health rapid response teams were introduced earlier this year, the service says.

Peel’s new Mobile Crisis Rapid Response Teams (MCRRT), which pair officers with mental health clinicians, have apprehended and taken to hospital just 22 per cent of the people in crisis they responded to between the teams’ introduction in January and Oct. 1, according to new numbers released by Peel police.

Last year, the service as a whole was much more likely to detain someone experiencing a crisis. Police responded to 6,360 mental health calls (excluding suicides and suicide attempts) in 2019, from which 5,803 people — more than 90 per cent — were apprehended and taken to local hospitals.

Though there are just two MCRRT units that are only capable of responding to a fraction of the crisis calls received by emergency dispatchers — the teams had responded to 1,530 calls as of Oct. 1, police say — they’ve already successful diverted hundreds from hospital, a fact that shows how effective the clinician-first model can be, said Charlene Heyer, clinical director of crisis services at Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) Peel Dufferin, which has partnered with Peel police on the teams.

“For the most part, a lot of people (police) take to hospital end up being released because they never needed to go to begin with,” Heyer said.

Det.-Sgt. Jodi Dawson said police welcome a further expansion of the unit because the volume of total calls handled by police yearly still exceeds what MCRRT has the resources to manage.

Officers have seen the “return on investment of having that mental health professional there to go through triaging incidents, because uniformed officers are not equipped are trained to deal with every mental health-related incidents,” Dawson said

Peel remains chronically underfunded for mental health crisis response services, and Heyer said the region should have about one response unit per 250,000 residents — or at least six teams available daily. Currently, there are only two units providing coverage between noon and midnight each day. CMHA has applied for funding to add two more units in 2021.

The units do more than de-escalating what can often become tense interactions between people in crisis and police. The units also serve as the first line of ensuring that safety nets such as short-term crisis beds are available for patients.

“We’re always looping back to those individuals to see what we can put together in terms of a safety plan and a short-term support plan until we can get something longer term in place,” Heyer said.

The Canadian Press
Protestors hold signs in front of the apartment building where Ejaz Choudry, a 62-year-old man who family members said was experiencing a schizophrenic episode, was shot by Peel Police and died at the scene the previous night, in Mississauga, Ont. on June 21, 2020.

Under the Mental Health Act, only police have the power to apprehend a person experiencing a mental health crisis and take them for treatment.

Peel regional council voted unanimously in July to explore ways to reduce the police role in mental health crises “when appropriate.”

The move, which also called on the province to change the law to give mental health workers, not just police officers, the authority to take charge of mental health crisis situations, follows a series of high-profile deaths involving Peel police this year. According to family, two of those incidents — the shooting deaths of D’Andre Campbell in April and Ejaz Choudry in June — involved calls to 911 for a mental health-related crisis.

Both the Choudry and Campbell cases are currently under investigation by the province’s Special Investigations Unit.

Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie has said the law must be changed to “allow first responders other than the police to apprehend individuals in distress.”

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