On August 8, 2013 the Ontario Ombudsman announced that his office will review the guidelines provided by the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services to police for de-escalating crisis situations, including those involving people with mental health issues. The systematic investigation is scheduled to be completed within the next six to 12 months and will look at current de-escalation training standards and procedures across Ontario. Even though police contact with persons experiencing mental health issues is rare, psychiatric emergencies do occur. Usually, police officers are dispatched after a 911 call in order to assist in mental health crises. Crisis response, however, is only one of several types of interactions between police and people experiencing mental health issues. The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police has identified a variety of interactions ranging from officers as essential social support contacts for people with serious mental illness, to apprehensions and other powers under the Mental Health Act.
CMHA Ontario is addressing this issue in several ways. For example, CMHA Ontario provides policy support to the Provincial Human Services and Justice Coordinating Committee (HSJCC), a cross-sectoral collaborative that coordinates and plans mental health and justice resources and services for people with a serious mental illness, developmental disability, acquired brain injury, drug and alcohol addiction, and/or fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, who have come into contact with the law. The Provincial HSJCC has produced several reports on police interactions with mental health services and hospitals including:
- An Info Guide outlining the key issues relating to mental health apprehensions and police accompanied visits to the emergency department (ED), and highlighting strategies for effective police-ED protocols in Ontario. Currently in Phase 2, CMHA Ontario is developing provincial police-ED protocol recommendations to inform the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care.
- A critical review of joint police/mental health collaborations in Ontario which identifies innovative practices, their successes and challenges. For example in the Hamilton, Halton, Peel and the Chatham-Kent areas the Crisis Outreach and Support Team (COAST) program – a mobile crisis intervention team consisting of multidisciplinary mental health workers (social workers, nurses, etc.) and specially-trained, plain-clothed police officers that co-respond to mental health crises in the community – has been shown to be effective.
CMHA Ontario also holds a firm position on the use of conducted energy weapons such as Tasers and has recommended first response alternatives police can use to engage with people experiencing a mental health crisis. Details can be found in the policy position paper Conducted Energy Weapons (Tasers).
CMHA Ontario encourages police and mental health agencies to collaborate to find effective solutions for their communities with respect to interventions with persons experiencing a mental health crisis. There are options which have proven to be effective for interactions between police and persons experiencing a mental health crisis and these options are being successfully implemented in Ontario but more standardized protocols across the province are needed to better serve individuals with mental health issues who have come into contact with the law.
For more information about CMHA Ontario’s work with the Provincial Human Services and Justice Coordinating Committee, please visit the HSJCC website.