British Columbia

Pivot Legal Society calls for more police training around mental health

Pivot Legal Society is calling on the Vancouver police to make changes to the way they approach mental health.

VPD should have more officers trained in crisis intervention, de-escalation, says policing policy consultant

Vancouver Police implemented a mental health strategy in 2016, but Pivot would like to seem the department take on a new model. (Jacy Schindel/CBC)

Pivot Legal Society is calling on the Vancouver police to make changes to the way they approach mental health.

The recommendations come as the inquest begins into the 2014 police shooting of Tony Du, who had schizophrenia.

Pivot, which works with marginalized communities on social justice issues, is supporting Du's family and their lawyer during the inquest. 

Camia Weaver, the society's policing policy consultant, says more specialized officers for mental health and de-escalation are needed.

"We would like to see a more comprehensive approach to the issue by the VPD," Weaver told Stephen Quinn on The Early Edition.

Pivot is hoping the VPD will adopt the Memphis Crisis Intervention Team model, which would involve 40 hours of training for 20 per cent of the general police force.

Officers who receive the training are selected based on their backgrounds and whether or not they have the personality traits to be effective in crisis intervention. At least one officer is meant to be on duty every shift acting as a first responder in potential mental-health related calls.

"They're covering in every district on every shift, so they're available and they're specialists,"  Weaver said.

Current programs not enough

Every officer in B.C. is mandated to have some mental health training, but Weaver says not every officer is suited to properly de-escalate a situation.

"Not everyone can do this kind of thing and do it well," Weaver said.

The Vancouver police implemented a mental health strategy in 2016 with the aim of better dealing with situations involving those with mental illness.

The existing team is made up of 24 police officers and has members that are trained in specialized mental-health response as well as a crisis negotiation team. But Weaver says this team is not called out very often.

"They're usually called out for issues where someone is barricaded or there's a hostage and they're very tactical in the way they approach things," she said.

Weaver says the Memphis Crisis Intervention Team model would ensure enough officers were trained, making them available on every shift.

"There should be an effort made to approach it calmly and slowly... to communicate not in a usual command-and-control way," she said.

Car 87

In the 1980s the Vancouver Police implemented the Car 87 program, which teams up a police officer with a mental health officer, but Weaver says this program falls short.

"In terms of covering the whole of Vancouver, of course one or two cars is not going to be sufficient," she said. 

Weaver says that because one of the people in the car is a civilian, they are not able to attend situations that have the potential for violence.

"Car 87 at this point is really about follow-up," she said.

More training for dispatchers

One of the recommendations Pivot has put forward is more training for officers who work dispatch.

Weaver says those who answer 911 calls would learn which questions to ask to be able to determine whether specialized officers are needed.

"If they have knowledge of mental-health symptoms and how things happen, they're able to ask the caller about certain things and be able to better recognize." 

Listen to the interview here:

With files from The Early Edition