Fort St. John RCMP will soon be responding to mental health and substance abuse calls with the help of a healthcare professional.
Mayor Lori Ackerman told city council on Monday that a partnership has been reached between RCMP and Northern Health for the Car 60 program. The program will pair RCMP officers with mental health professionals who will respond in an unmarked police vehicle to incidents involving mental health or substance abuse issues, she said.
“What’s happened in the past is that the general duty police officer responded to such calls and then would transport that person to the hospital, and could often spend several hours with that person at the hospital while they were being assessed and treated by healthcare professionals,” Ackerman told council.
“We’ve been waiting for it for awhile because not all calls need to be treated in that enforcement way. It’s just a different way of doing business.”
Last year, Fort St. John RCMP responded to 343 mental health related calls, up from 256 calls five years ago in 2016.
Detachment commander Insp. Tony Hanson told Alaska Highway News earlier this year the detachment was working to develop the program with the health authority, modelled after the program's success in Prince George where Hanson headed the unit.
“There’s a lot of criticism of police in society today, about the way we deal with the mentally ill,” Hanson said at the time. “And you know, they’re not wrong in the sense that we are not medical professionals, we are not social workers, we are not trained psychiatric professionals, nor did we ask to be.”
“But we are the safety net in our society, when there’s nobody else to call, you call the police,” he said.
Right now, two clinicians are available for the program and operating under limited hours, Ackerman said. The program will be evaluated for three months to see where more shifts are needed, Ackerman said.
“A huge thanks to both Northern Health and the RCMP for kicking this across the goal line and getting it done for our community. Pretty exciting,” Ackerman said.
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