Mental health calls continue to tax RCMP

John Gleeson/Staff Writer / Staff writer
January 10, 2014 01:00 AM

Despite improved coordination between RCMP and health officials, Mental Health Act calls remain a constant drain on police resources on the Sunshine Coast.

"These calls continue to place major demands on our detachment," Staff Sgt. Herb Berdahl told the Sunshine Coast policing committee on Jan. 6.

In his report for the last quarter of 2013, Berdahl said the detachment has responded to repeated calls involving the same clients.

"They are taken to St. Mary's Hospital, released, only to be within a short time re-arrested and released again," Berdahl said in his report to the committee.

The trend was evident in the December crime statistics under the category of provincial statutes, where the number of calls from St. Mary's Hospital and the Town of Gibsons went up sharply from the previous year.

In the case of Gibsons, he said, eight of the 15 calls received last month were from the Sumac Place tertiary rehabilitation facility that opened last year on Kiwanis Way, and all involved the same individual, who failed to return after spending the day away from the facility.

"If the person doesn't come back in the evening, they call police," Berdahl said.

Saying she was "very concerned" that mental health calls were continuing to tax RCMP resources, Roberts Creek director Donna Shugar asked Berdahl what steps could be taken to "mitigate the issue."

"I wish I knew," Berdahl said.

The detachment has worked diligently with health providers on the Coast and the relationship continues to improve, he said, "but it doesn't curtail the number of calls we get." The mental health unit at St. Mary's is small, he added, "and their resources are taxed to the maximum as well."

The committee agreed to board chair Garry Nohr's suggestion that a "higher level meeting" be arranged between RCMP and the Sunshine Coast Regional Hospital District board.

Out of that meeting, Nohr said, if a solution that required provincial funding came forward, the next step would be to meet with Ministry of Health officials and make a formal request.

In late 2012, Berdahl reported that the number of Mental Health Act files had jumped by 50 per cent during the first nine months of the year, while the detachment's overall call volume decreased by two per cent. An internal study found that seven to nine per cent of the detachment's calls were related to mental health.

In other RCMP business, Berdahl reported that the Coast detachment radio system has switched from analog to digital.

The move is significant, he said, because the digital system provides a clearer long-range signal between Coast RCMP members and the E-Comm dispatch centre in Vancouver.

The change should also put an end to police scanner monitoring by civilians, he said.

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