By Acting Victoria police chief Del Manak
The Victoria Police Department recently launched our new Mental Health Strategy in recognition of the importance of good mental health in the lives of all citizens in our communities and our own employees. Our strategy clearly lays out our proactive, person-centred approach to addressing mental health matters in our communities.
Much attention since then has been focused on our request for two additional officers, which is one part of our overall strategy. We are not looking to start our own mental health team of police officers. We recognize that we are not mental health experts. Instead, we want to add two additional officers to the Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) teams. These ACT teams are highly successful because they are multi-disciplinary teams that work in a coordinated and integrated manner. The teams are comprised of police, nurses, social workers, mental health and support professionals who, together, facilitate a mental health program focused on individual clients and their recovery. The program facilitates community living, rehabilitation, and recovery for persons who have the most serious mental health issues. These same people often have many contacts with police and we have seen significant decreases in police contacts after individuals are supported by the ACT teams.
We have one officer permanently assigned to cover the four ACT teams, which means that this one officer services 320 people who face some of the most significant mental health issues in our communities. This is clearly more work than one officer can handle alone. Recently, we temporarily re-assigned a second officer away from our Community Services Division to help manage the workload on the ACT teams and the results have been very positive. Our request means that by having a total of three officers supporting the four ACT teams, we can properly support the work the teams are doing. This request will enhance ACT teams’ capacity, prevent crises and enhance safety for everyone. Our partner agencies have expressed clear support for our request.
Many are asking why police?
When someone is in crisis after office hours, their loved ones call 911. And we respond.
We respond because it is our job to help keep people safe, which we do, as part of a team. We are talking about helping individuals who regularly intersect the criminal justice system and the health system. There is a great deal of overlap between those working in law enforcement and those working in health. We share information, systems and expertise as well as responsibilities. A police officer is the only person who has the legal authority to apprehend an individual under the Mental Health Act and bring that person to treatment. It is those working in health whose efforts can help bring about lasting change to that individual’s lives. We have relationships with those we work with, and we have relationships with those whom we serve. We personally know those who are in crisis in our community and we want to ensure early intervention so these individuals can be connected to the services and supports that they require. It is part of our strategy to build closer relationships with them, and to be part of their community of caring.
As a community of caring, we must all acknowledge and embrace the role that mental health issues play in the quality of life of our citizens and the vibrancy of Victoria and Esquimalt. That is why we developed our mental health strategy with our key partners and why they support our current and future efforts to help improve the quality of life for all members of our communities.