Mobile Crisis Response program sees success and expansion after first year

Ken Kellar
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

In just a year in operation, the Mobile Crisis Response Team (MCRT) has answered to more than 900 calls, but the number of mental health related incidents they’ve helped prevent can’t be counted.

The MCRT, a joint operation between the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) and the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) is marking both its one year anniversary as well as the announcement of further funding to increase the number of teams available in the region to assist with mental health related crises. OPP Constable Jim Davis said the team works together to respond to situations that demand a more holistic approach than an individual police officer might be able to provide, and as such, the hiring of additional mental health workers is governed by CMHA.

“The MCRT is a police officer paired with a crisis response worker,” Davis explained.

“The crisis response worker is employed by CMHA so they are the ones that are determining what the qualifications and skill sets are that are required to do that. It could be a registered nurse or an occupational therapist, someone who has some sort of background in medicine or a background in social work, and then they’re trained as a crisis response worker on top of that.”

The team itself then is one police officer and one crisis worker, and they respond to calls involving a mental health crisis, including addictions.

“What we’re finding is normally officers are called to something outside the social norm,” Davis said.

“Whether that’s a disturbance or some sort of behaviour that’s causing people concern, and that’s why the police are called. If it’s an issue at a residence, the officer will go inside the residence and determine what needs to happen in terms of it being safe, and then the crisis worker will attend inside the residence as well.”

But what sets this whole enterprise apart, Davis explained, is that the addition of the crisis worker means that individuals who are experiencing a mental health emergency is then able to form a rapport with the worker, who can then help to ensure the affected individual receives some kind of follow-up, whether that be to mental health or medical resources. The point is to address the causes of the crisis and hopefully prevent that individual from experiencing another, thus keeping the OPP and MCRT free to engage with other calls.

“In my mind, and in the minds of other officers, this is the key thing,” Davis said.

“They’re building rapport and doing follow-up with people who have had that police interaction. They’ve got some deep rooted partnerships with community organizations and they’re able to get help to those people. They’ve attended about 900 calls in the last year, but we can’t really measure what they’ve proactively engaged people into preventing as calls for service, just by doing those follow-up calls with people.”

The police do what they can to help those in crisis in the moment, but the crisis worker who has the time to call the individual later to ensure they’re OK, or to connect them with other services, is invaluable.

Of course, as the MCRT make more connections, the time it takes to interact with everyone in need increases, hence the excitement over funding announcements that will add another full-time position in the Atikokan area and an additional part-time worker in Fort Frances, bringing the total up to 2.5 crisis response workers who will, in reality, work within the entire district.

The benefits of expanding the number of crisis workers can’t be understated, Davis said, especially as calls for police services across the continent to adapt their approaches to things like mental health crises have increased over the past few years.

“We’ve certainly seen in the media and policing in general significant trends in the requirement for police officers to find additional tools and other ways to connect with people,” he explained.

“I think this is a great move in the right direction towards just building those partnerships and building those relationships with people. The ability for someone to have that rapport with a police officer and the crisis response, and with people who have had negative interactions with police before, they’re building this positive rapport with crisis response worker and OPP officer who are representing CMHA and the OPP, so I think the community impact is huge. From what I’ve seen it does have a positive impact on people’s view of police and relationship with the police when they’re in crises.”