Saskatoon police say they respond to about 5,000 calls each year involving mentally ill people — many who don't belong in jail, but need help.

And so, they've teamed up with the local health region in a new program aimed at getting those people the right help, when they need it.

What's called the Police and Crisis Team, or PACT, got off the ground thanks to $250,000 from the health region.

For the past month, a police officer and a crisis worker have been responding to about 10 calls per day.

The goal is to help mentally ill people in emergencies and get them the right help they need, instead of automatically putting them in a holding cell or taking them to the hospital.

"Day in and day out we are dealing with people who have a mental health illness [or] addictions issues," Insp. Mitch Yuzdepski of the Saskatoon Police Service said. "Really, the police alone are not very well equipped to deal with those."

The result is that instead of multiple contacts with the same person over days or weeks, there might be just one.

"When we can have that kind of client-centred collaboration, we are less likely to deal with them in a crisis the next day or two days from now or a week from now because what's happened is they've actually been stabilized in the community," he said.

There are plans to expand the program, with a second PACT team hitting the streets in September.