St. Catharines officially launched a Mobile Crisis Rapid Response Team at 6pm Thursday evening. Niagara’s year long pilot program is modeled after the one that was started in Hamilton in 2013, which was the first mobile crisis rapid response team in the country.
It officially launched at 6 Thursday evening and they’ll be responding to calls 7 nights a week from 6pm to 1am.
When Niagara Regional Police receive a 911 call involving mental health issues, they’ll now be able to send a cruiser with more than just a cop inside. The service is now pairing a uniformed officer with a mental health professional.
The mental health professional will respond to calls even if there are weapons involved. They will wear bullet proof vests and will have completed use of force training – the same training police recruits do.
“I will step in an assess and make sure everything is safe and from there a lot of the times the mental health worker is going to take over” says Niagara Police Constable Dave Bozza.
“My role will be to do a brief mental status assessment and talk to the individual about what their situation is. What they are experiencing at that moment and get them in touch with the right community resource” says Mental Health Worker Lindsay Galipeau.
Across the Niagara Region, officers arrest about 700 people a year under the Mental Health Act.
“Up until this point our hands have really been tied” says Niagara Police Chief Jeffrey McGuire. “Where we have had someone in crisis on the street, you couldn’t just walk away and leave them. You have determine ‘are they going to be a harm to themselves?’ and if so they have to be arrested. And we want to avoid that as much as we can and help them get the help they need.”
The Mobile Crisis Rapid Response Team program is modeled after the one that was launched in Hamilton in 2013. That year, Steve Mesic was shot and killed by Hamilton Police after he checked himself out of a voluntary mental health facility at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton. It raised questions about dealing with people in distress
The Hamilton team has responded to more than 14-hundred people in crisis, and more than 250 Hamilton cops have undergone the mental health training. “We have seen about a 50 percent reduction in persons going to hospital” says Hamilton Police Sergeant Steve Holmes. “Not only is it cost effective to the city, to the police service, to the hospital itself but persons in crisis are getting an immediate response.”
Niagara Police hope to see similar results, and they hope that this one year pilot project will become a permanent part of the service.