With the number of mental health issues the police are forced to deal with in the line of their everyday work, the RCMP has another tool in its toolbox, to help more effectively deal with situations.
Over the last few years, the RCMP in Alberta has rolled out the Police and Crisis Teams (PACT) to better deal with situations where police need more support on a call.
“There has always been discussion as to whether mental health calls are a police matter or a medical matter. We are talking about someone who is truly in a mental health crisis. I do believe there is a police component to it, but some of the mental health calls we have been on are some of the most dangerous calls that we go on,” said Staff Sergeant Robert Harms. “There is a need for police, but we are not doctors. If someone is in a true medical crisis, they probably need a medical component to help deal with that.”
He explains it is basically a team in a police vehicle with a police officer and mental health nurse or someone who specializes in these kinds of medical crises.
“It is really the best of both worlds, they can attend the calls, and the safety side of things is satisfied because of the police officer, and they will also have a professional there to deal with the medical side of things,” said Harms. “Some of the success I have seen is they are often able to resolve things right on the scene, unlike before when they don’t have that medical piece at the scene, sometimes we have to take that person to the hospital for a medical assessment.”
Mental health calls have been on the rise. Harms said over the last five years in Southern Alberta in towns with populations between 5,000 and 10,000, there has been a 28 per cent increase in calls, over the last five years. Drumheller has seen a 35 per cent increase.
While Drumheller does not have a dedicated PACT team, there are teams currently on shift throughout the province. Drumheller officers are fully trained and can utilize the service of nearby teams, including Cochrane, Coladale and Red Deer. He says in the past, officers have been able to consult with a medical practitioner on the phone when dealing with a call and have had one deployed to the area once.
“That is who we lean on whenever we need it. Right now, they are a little distance from us, but they will mobilize themselves to this area if we need it,” said Harms.
“How far will they be rolled out in Alberta? I don’t know, but it is a really good start and a step in the right direction.”