British Columbia

Mentally ill still drain Vancouver police resources

A report by the Vancouver Police Department says the force is still spending too much time and resources dealing with people suffering from mental illnesses.

Psych patients and police

11 years ago
Duration 3:19
Vancouver police resources are being drained by psychiatric patients walking away from hospital treatment, the CBC's Eric Rankin reports

A report by the Vancouver Police Department says the force is still spending too much time and resources dealing with people suffering from mental illnesses.

The report, titled "Policing Vancouver's Mentally Ill: The Disturbing Truth," was written a year ago and made public on Monday after it was leaked to CBC News.

The report says police are responding to chronically mentally ill and addicted individuals everyday on Vancouver streets, and suggests little has changed since police released a similar report three years ago.

"The police … are still responding day after day to 'difficult to manage' and 'treat' chronically mentally ill and addicted individuals on the streets of Vancouver," the report states.

"Other issues relating to suicide, suicide attempts and missing persons consume police resources, frustrate police, and in some cases endanger the lives and safety of patients, frontline police officers, other first responders and the public."

According to the document, Vancouver police responded to about 16,500 calls for services in 2009. And between Feb. 1, 2009 and Feb. 1, 2010, seven people who had previous dealings with police for mental health issues committed suicide.

"The key finding of the first Lost in Transition report was that a lack of capacity in the mental health system is failing Vancouver’s mentally ill and draining police resources; unfortunately, that tragically remains true."

The report, which was prepared in September 2010, goes on to say police officers often become de facto frontline workers because of a lack of resources.

No fingers pointed

Deputy Chief Warren Lemke said the document was a "call to action" and meant to identify issues and open up dialogue with the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority.

"This is not a report that is set out there to damn [Vancouver] Coastal Health or any other agency out there," Lemke said.

"It's to bring to people's attention, to [Vancouver] Coastal Health attention and internally in the VPD, some of the issues that we see and we are working together in a very cooperative fashion."

Lemcke said he has seen some progress since 2008, noting that the force has trained about 800 police officers in crisis intervention.

He said police are bringing more people suffering from mental illnesses to hospital, and hospitals are doing a better job at handling them.

Lorna Howes, director of mental health for Vancouver Coastal Health, said police and her organization have made some progress since September 2010, adding the report would look very different if it had been written recently.

She said police are spending less time waiting around with patients in hospital emergency rooms. But she also said the health authority can improve in areas like security.

The report suggests police and mental health professionals work together to share information and better meet the needs of the community.

"Ultimately the mentally ill and/or addicted in our society are 'us,'" the report says.

"They may be a spouse, a parent, a sibling, a child or other family member, a friend or a co-worker. We owe it to them to keep working toward more responsive and effective models of care for the mentally ill and/or addicted in our society."

The report concludes by calling for increased mental health resources, including institutional and community-based treatment, and an increase in support housing.

A similar report released by the Vancouver police in February 2008 announced one-third of all police calls in Vancouver involved one or more people suffering from mental illness and found a lack of "capacity" in the mental-health system.

With files from The Canadian Press