It's a request Victoria police have long been asking for, and now the City of Victoria has agreed to pay $204,900 for two additional officers to join an integrated mental health team as part of a two-year pilot.
The officers will be joining the four Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) teams already serving more than 320 clients in Victoria and Esquimalt. The teams are made up of nurses, mental health and social workers who provide support to people living with severe and persistent mental illness.
According to police, the clients often have a high number of interactions with officers and are typically in a mental health crisis before coming to the program. The programs seek to stabilize them, then help access housing and other supports in addition to navigating the criminal justice system if they have been charged with an offence.
Currently the teams have two officers who work in plainclothes. One position was added in July as part of a six-month pilot project and has resulted in at least 12 referrals.
“This two-year pilot project will help those who need it most,” said acting chief Del Manak. “These officers will contribute in a meaningful way by assisting the integrated teams in preventing people who are very ill from spiraling into crisis.”
The pilot has been a controversial one, with some believing the sensitive work of dealing with people suffering from mental illness should be left to mental health professionals. Manak recognizes officers aren't mental health experts, but noted police are often the first to respond when someone is in crisis after office hours.
Police made a similar budget request to approve a two-year, $500,000 pilot project in 2015, but the proposal was turned down. Manak said this proposal is much stronger than the last, noting the department has just launched a mental health strategy that puts forward a more philosophical view about how police should approach mental illness in the community.
In the end, council's vote for the two-year pilot was a 5-4 split.