Montreal police taking new approach on mental health emergencies

Montreal police officers will be receiving specialized training to learn how to deal with people with mental health issues.

New plan will see every officer trained in the next three years

Montreal police say intervention teams will be assisted by criminologists and a psychoeducator. (CBC)

Montreal police officers will be receiving specialized training to learn how to deal with people with mental health issues.

At a news conference on Thursday, Fady Gagher, the chief inspector for the community relations department, said the number of cases involving people with mental health issues is on the rise and police will be trained to respond to them.

"This is not only a police issue. It's much more a health issue, but we are the first ones responding," he said.

The police force started training staff last June. Since then, Gagher said the team has intervened over 600 times with people suffering from mental illnesses.

All officers will receive some training over the next three years. This will involve simulations and discussions with people with psychiatric problems.

Some teams will be trained in crisis prevention and psychological emergencies.

Social workers, mental health professionals and community groups will also be involved in helping police monitor situations.

The psychological emergency teams will be made up of three police officers trained to assess and analyze situations. These officers will also assist their colleagues in ensuring public safety when dealing with a suspect.

Two criminologists and a psychoeducator will also be part of the project and help evaluate the person's state of mind and whether they pose a risk to themselves.

Ella Amir, director of AMI Québec, an organization that offers support programs for people and families affected by mental illness, said people with these conditions end up in trouble with police.

"Difficulties with the law is not because the person is a criminal. It is because the person either isn't being treated properly or isn't participating in his treatment," she said.

She said she is glad Montreal police are treating the problem as a health issue, but she is reserving judgment for the moment.

"I think that this is a great plan. I think it remains to be seen how it will unfold, how it's really going to translate into actual interventions," she said.

In a news release, Montreal police said they receive over 30,000 calls every year from people with mental health issues.

Last year, a homeless man was shot in the Bonaventure metro station after threatening police with a knife.

In 2011, Mario Hamel was gunned down when he waved a knife during an intervention with police. A passerby was shot and killed by a wide shot.

Last December, a coroner who investigated the case recommended more police officers carry stun guns.