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Nelson police now paired with trained first responder for mental health calls

Abbotsford News - 2/17/2024

Nelson police responding to mental health calls will now be joined by a trained clinician.

Interior Health announced Feb. 7 it was adding four outreach liaisons in Nelson, Trail, Cranbrook and Williams Lake to work with local law enforcement. The clinicians are able to respond to mental health and substance use-related calls, and have training in de-escalation and harm reduction.

Insp. Kris Rice with the Nelson Police Department said the clinician began attending calls in January. The program, which includes Nelson's RCMP detachment, is already showing its benefits.

"I've seen first-hand the value of having her come to a scene like that. As you know, police get a lot of training in mental health, but we don't get training to the same degree as a clinician would have."

Rice said clinicians are able to attend calls on their own, but not when there is the possibility of violence. Sometimes they may be on standby until police complete a risk assessment.

Likewise, because a mental health call now begins with the health authority instead of the department, the clinician may attend but ask police for backup.

The partnership is flexible. Rice said he has also already seen a situation when a client felt more comfortable with an officer they knew than a mental-health worker they didn't.

"It's all about the client; it's all about de-escalation. So it's not necessarily the clinician needs to have that direct conversation, but the clinician is there to provide their expertise and that oversight and working together and sharing information."

Mental health-related calls, and how they should be responded to, have become a focus for law enforcement in B.C.

In 2022, an all-party panel of MLAs recommended a number of revisions to the Police Act. They included the integration of mental health with 911 calls, and increased co-ordination between police and mental health workers, with an emphasis "on prevention and community-led responses and ensuring appropriate first response."

The first reforms to the Police Act are expected to be brought to the Legislature this spring, but it's not clear which ones will be on the table for MLAs.

Nelson police chief Donovan Fisher said the new partnership with Interior Health aligns with the Police Act recommendations but isn't connected. The initiative, he said, came from discussions between the health authority, BC Association of Chiefs of Police and the RCMP'sSoutheast District.

Nelson police responded to 732 calls with a mental-health component in 2023. Fisher doesn't think the partnership will lead to a decrease in those calls, but he does believe it will result in better outcomes for those in need of help.

"The clients are the ones who are going to benefit and get the best response that we can give them as a police department. So we're not apprehending people who don't need to be apprehended … and making sure that they're getting where they need to go. And then [the clinician] can also follow up with them after the fact."

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