Blue Line


February 21, 2015  By Glenn De Caire

  • <A 45-year-old man cut himself and sent pictures via Facebook. The Mobile Crisis Rapid Response Team (MCRRT) responded to assess him; he had a substance abuse problem. Based on the mental status exam, he was not apprehended. Uniformed patrol would have taken him to hospital.

  • A 13 year old boy went missing for five hours during a cold alert and was the subject of a missing person search. He had hid in the backyard dog house during a previous cold alert wearing only a light jacket. MCRRT was able to talk him out and back into the house.

  • A personal support worker called 911 to say a female client wanted to jump off her balcony. MCRRT responded, did an assessment and found there was no need to apprehend the client. Uniformed patrol would have taken her to hospital.>

These incidents are common to police right across the country. The Hamilton Police Service (HPS) used to make about 2,000 mental health apprehensions each year. As with most police services, a disproportionate amount of resources were being used without meeting the needs of the people in crisis.

Facing these problems on a daily basis, we developed a Mobile Crisis Rapid Response Team, the first of its kind in Canada. A uniformed officer was paired with a mental health professional to provide direct, rapid support to individuals in their time of crisis.

The goal was to reduce the number of people suffering from a mental health crisis taken to hospital by police for psychiatric treatment and to divert those in crisis by connecting them with other mental health service providers/partners.

The MCRRT proof of concept strategy sees a dedicated mental health professional (MHP) work with divisional patrol Monday to Friday from 10:00 am to 10:00 pm. Our downtown patrol area was selected as it had the most mental health apprehensions.

The MHP is partnered directly with a uniformed police officer and is responsible for and dispatched to all “in-progress” 911 calls involving a reported person in crisis.

The MCRRT strategy has already seen positive results. Officers are spending less time standing by in emergency rooms awaiting doctor assessments. Individuals in crisis are receiving an immediate frontline response and the care they require on scene.

The initial target was to assess 250 clients in one year. This was revised to 500 in very short order as the team was set to quickly surpass the original goal.

The MCRRT was mobile for 246 shifts and responded to 735 individuals in crisis between Nov. 25, 2013 and Nov. 30, 2014. Of the 745 individuals seen, 203 were apprehended by the MCRRT for assessment at hospital (41 youth were taken to McMaster University and not included in these statistics). Of the remaining 491 individuals, 431 were immediately diverted/connected to other available services and 60 were apprehended on the strength of the Mental Health Act Forms already in place and required no further assistance.

Many of the people apprehended go right into medical or psychiatric care instead of coming into police custody.

With MCCRT, our apprehensions have fallen, diverting more than 400 people from hospital while still offering those in crisis the level of care and assistance they require.

The outcomes are very impressive and we now seek to solidify this important project into the service with our 2015 budget request. Our focus on mental health requires five full-time officers to work with the mental health professionals. We seek to entrench this important program and to expand it to seven days a week across the city.

We are supported in the endeavor by our partners at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Hamilton Health Sciences. The Local Health Integrated Network (LHIN) of Hamilton Niagara Haldimand Brant agreed in December to provide St. Joe’s Mental Health Workers with almost $500,000 of base funding to support our MCRRT. We are grateful for this major contribution to mental wellness in Hamilton.

The National Committee on Public Safety, May 2014, stated that “paving the way to community safety includes upstream solutions for downstream benefits… prevention is cheaper than investigation, response and putting people through the courts system.”

We know that mental illness is not criminal behaviour. Our teams are offering people in crisis the right care at the right time. Better is better.

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