Mental health calls to OPP on rise

Duane Hicks

The local OPP detachment is trying to find a better way to work with partner agencies to handle mental health calls.
Detachment commander Insp. Nathan Schmidt told the Police Services Board on Friday that the local detachment has seen an increase in the number of incidents related to individuals with mental health issues and, consequently, an increase in the time officers must spend dealing with these types of calls.
There were 65 mental health billable calls for service last year in Fort Frances, compared to 48 the year before, he noted.
Two officers have spent an average of two hours and 57 minutes per call at the hospital, Insp. Schmidt said.
Last year, this added up to three days, 19 hours, and 28 minutes spent at the hospital dealing with mental health admissions.
There were 90 mental health calls in total between Rainy River and Fort Frances last year, with many of them involving the same individuals.
Forty-one out of the 90 calls involving mental health issues involved individuals that officers had dealt within the last 30 days before, said Insp. Schmidt.
“It seems to be an issue of recidivism,” he remarked. “We are dealing with these people on several levels.
“We’ve got to figure out what else we can do because we can’t just keep repeating the same thing over and over and over again,” Insp. Schmidt stressed.
OPP S/Sgt. Derek McLean is nearing completion of a mental health protocol which includes collaboration with relevant agencies.
“It’s important that there be some connection between the police and these other service providers,” he said.
“But there has to be some access to calls after-hours,” he stressed.
“It’s fine and dandy to have all of your mental health people working weekdays, but unfortunately people don’t always have mental health crises during the regular weekdays,” Insp. Schmidt conceded.
“Those are the challenges we need to overcome and hopefully be able to address,” he added.
Insp. Schmidt explained officers often will go to a call for one reason and after responding, determine that an individual with apparent mental health issues could use some help.
“But there’s no proper referral program to be able to call somebody out and say, ‘Do you want to go check on this person?'” he said.
“This is what we’re finding.
“We are hoping with this protocol that he’s been working on that we’ll be able to begin to tackle that,” Insp. Schmidt added.
“It’s certainly one of the focuses for 2018–trying to collaboratively work together.”
Local PSB member Rick Wiedenhoeft said he’s heard at PSB conferences that police across the province are having to deal with this problem.
Insp. Schmidt agreed, noting an escalation in mental health calls is an ongoing trend.
He said the bigger detachments have managed to work together with mental health staff, in some cases having them ride along with officers.
“It may not work here because we just don’t have the resources,” he admitted, adding some sort of process must be developed here nonetheless.
Insp. Schmidt later noted “the OPP don’t have all of the answers.”
“I think a lot of the answers are within the community,” he remarked.
PSB chair John McTaggart advised him that district health-care providers recently have been coming together to work on a “health hub” to try and share resources, minimize crossover of services, and break down some of the silos they’ve been operating in.
He suggested that perhaps there could be come discussion with them to see where policing fits into the delivery of mental health services.