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Oak Bay police rely on regional health team for mental health response

Integrated Mobile Crisis Response Team aids Greater Victoria officers 11 hours a day
The Integrated Mobile Crisis Response Team responds to 5,000 to 6,000 calls a year, many from police agencies seeking guidance in mental health and substance use calls. (Black Press Media file photo)

A cryptic note on a social media platform sends someone into a panicked worry about the well-being of a friend, family member or acquaintance.

They call 911 or the Vancouver Island Crisis Line. Either way, if it’s between 1 p.m. and midnight, the Integrated Mobile Crisis Response Team (IMCRT) will likely be involved.

For 11 hours a day, seven days a week, IMCRT has a plain clothes police officer, a nurse with mental health expertise, a counsellor or social worker and a child and youth worker on call, explained team coordinator Rob Schuckel.

Originally formed in 1990 under emergency mental health services, and shifted to be integrated with police and child and youth services in 2004. The team aims to provide a rapid, mobile, community-based response to children, youth and families in crisis.

Oak Bay police Deputy Chief Mark Fisher says it’s also a valuable resource for officers.

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That small community has seen a slight uptick in mental health calls year over year.

Between February 2020 and February 2021 more than half (43) of the 74 calls to police ended with individuals detained under Mental Health Act provisions. That means someone is taken to receive care, either willingly, taken by family or apprehended by officers. There were 71 calls over the same period the previous year.

“Our job is to get them there in a safe manner,” Fisher said.

Crises taking place outside of IMCRT hours fall on police alone. Officers undergo crisis intervention and de-escalation training and re-certify every three years. That program provides better understanding of illnesses and how they present.

But the less intrusive support and potential intervention offered by the team is crucial to police. Plus, part of the team’s mandate is to reduce the number of police interactions with people in the community, Schuckel said.

“We would rather hear from families and people early on rather than when someone’s in a crisis state.”

READ ALSO: West Shore first responders raise alarm after dramatic increase in mental health calls

While the team aims to provide less intrusive intervention or support, there are situations where it’s appropriate for police to attend and the two agencies to work collaboratively.

Schuckel used the example of an individual high on stimulants who may be destroying their home and threatening others with heavy objects. Family or friends may call on the team to deescalate and help.

“I’m not sending my staff into a situation that is really risky or worrisome without police presence,” he said, adding once it’s safe, police don’t need to be involved. Once a situation is safe, team members can, and will, follow up directly.

In a given year, IMCRT answers 5,000 to 6,000 calls across the south Island, Schuckel said. Aside from police, calls come from a variety of sources, including health professionals such as nurse practitioners or physicians and the public calling for themselves or family members through the crisis line. Crisis line calls can be family or individuals specifically seeking IMCRT help, or just reaching out for support and trained call takers will call on the team – but only from 1 p.m. to midnight.

The COVID effect

When the coronavirus pandemic began, the IMCRT team tracked COVID-19 implications. Within weeks professionals stopped considering it a standalone contributor. Everyone was affected in some way whether employment, social isolation or mental health impacts, Schuckel said.

For those in need call the 24-hour Vancouver Island Crisis Line at 1‑888‑494‑3888, text 250-800-3806 from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. or visit to find local mental health and crisis resources.

Christine van Reeuwyk

About the Author: Christine van Reeuwyk

Longtime journalist with the Greater Victoria news team.
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