Nfld. & Labrador

New unit, new approach: RNC launches mobile crisis response team in Corner Brook

"This is one of the best initiatives that I've seen in 37 years in policing," says RNC Chief Joe Boland.

'This is one of the best initiatives that I've seen in 37 years in policing,' says RNC chief

RNC Chief Joe Boland says the program is one of the best he's seen over the course of his career. (CBC)

With the official launch of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary's third mobile crisis response unit, the police force's chief says the value in their new approach is clear.

"We're ecstatic," said Joe Boland on Monday as the new unit, which began work in April, was given an official kickoff. "This is one of the best initiatives that I've seen in 37 years in policing."

The Western Health team, which includes a mental health worker and a police officer, joins the two launched in St. John's and Labrador West in April 2018. Those first two teams have responded to more than 2,300 calls since then, and the Corner Brook unit has responded to more than 170 calls since April.

"It's going to have the greatest impact on our communities, persons in crisis, their families, loved ones and our officers and front-line health-care providers," said Boland.

The shift to this policing model means no longer trying to solve a health-care issue a mental health crisis with a justice response, Boland said. 

We knew that it was time for change here, that the way we were doing it wasn't appropriate.- Joe Boland

"It wasn't a hard sell to health care or the police," he said. 

"We knew that it was time for change here, that the way we were doing it wasn't appropriate and that there was a better way and there was a way that we could model, which was Memphis."

The Memphis model

The model adopted by the RNC is based on a crisis intervention team first used by the Memphis Police Department and now employed around the world. It's flexible for a particular community's needs, Boland said.

The Memphis model involves providing police with specialized training in crisis intervention, and then placing those officers in the community and making them available to respond to help de-escalate a mental health crisis, such as someone threatening to commit suicide.

The model calls for 20 per cent of a force's patrol officers to be trained in crisis intervention. However, the RNC has committed to 100 per cent training across its force, Boland said, with that goal reached in Labrador West and about half of patrol officers trained so far in both Corner Brook and St. John's.

"We think it's that important for us."

The model was first launched on the northeast Avalon, Boland said, and the response has been positive so far. Over the last year, the number of people reaching out during mental health crises has tripled, he said, which illustrates the value of the change.

"We're seeing the fruits of our labours here now," he said.

The program improves community relations and means that a mental health issue isn't being fixed with a justice response, says Boland. (Radio-Canada)

The Corner Brook team's mental health worker and police officer work together in respond to calls from people in crisis, and can be reached from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week by phoning 911 or the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary at 709-637-4100.

Further teams will be established in the coming weeks in Gander, Grand Falls-Windsor and Happy Valley-Goose Bay, government said in a release about the Corner Brook unit. 

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Troy Turner