Victoria police chief pushes for civilian-led mental health response team

WatchThere is a push to have social workers respond to emergency mental health calls and now Victoria's police chief is calling for just that. April Lawrence reports.

If you are having a mental health crisis in the city of Eugene, Oregon, chances are it will be a van, not a police car, that will show up at your door. And it won’t be an officer but a social worker and medic who will come to help.

“You’d have the medic there to do vitals and make sure they were medically stable and also then have this crisis worker that can deal with the behavioural health aspect,” said Ben Brubaker who helps head up the program in Eugene.

The program is called “Crisis Assistance Helping Out on the Street”, or CAHOOTS. It started in Eugene’s White Bird Clinic three decades ago and now Victoria police want to bring it here.

Chief Del Manak is bringing a motion forward to the police board Tuesday evening asking to look at civilian-led mental health response models, like CAHOOTS, that would help divert low-risk calls to a mental health team.

“I think it’s remarkable he’s written a report to the police board tonight recommending a civilian-led approach to mental health intervention. I think he really gets what the community is asking for and I think that’s really positive,” said Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps.

While police are often the only ones in Victoria that can respond to a mental health issue, in Eugene the dispatcher helps decide who the call should go to. And while it does divert the need for police in many cases, the teams work side by side in many others.

“If they’re concerned about any kind of risk factors they’ll send police first and stage us somewhere in the area, or occasionally send us together,” said Brubaker.

“Many times police, once they go in, recognize it’s more of a call we should be handling they’ll step back out and be like nope you guys have got this thanks appreciate it and move on to the next thing,” he said.

The CAHOOTS program is paid for directly out of the Eugene police budget. In Victoria, Helps says a partnership makes more sense.

“Yes I think certainly some funding should come from the police budget for the CAHOOTS program or whatever we would call it here but also some funding should come from Island Health because this is a mental health issue, this is not a crime issue,” said Helps.

Manak is hoping to create a task force that will look at all possibilities and report back as soon as September 2020.

April LawrenceApril Lawrence

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