Ottawa

Police should be integrated with social services, chief tells MPs

Ottawa's police chief told a parliamentary committee Friday that other social service workers need to be integrated with the local force so they can help respond to  calls in which police don't have expertise, especially those involving mental health.

Chief Peter Sloly tells parliamentary committee that police don't need to be primary responders to every call

Chief Peter Sloly says officers often struggle when they face situations where they don’t have expertise and that closer ties to social service providers would help police and the community. 1:00

Ottawa's police chief says other social service workers need to be integrated with the local force so they can help respond to  calls in which police don't have expertise, especially those involving mental health.

Chief Peter Sloly made the comments during an appearance at the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security Friday.

He said police struggle when they cannot save people or when they face criticism for the way they handled situations in which they do not have expertise. Sloly said that the current way policing is set up has put officers in an "untenable" position and that police need to work in tandem with other front-line service providers who could be integrated into 24/7 response.

"[Front-line officers] need our support, not the de-funding and the de-tasking," Sloly said in a response to Bloc MP Kristina Michaud, vice-chair of the committee, who asked whether police were asked to do too much. "Integrating is what we actually need."

Sloly suggested there could be numbers other than 911 for people in distress to call. Operators could help assign social supports in situations where police may not be the best-suited to respond, such as incidents involving mental health crises.

"We can properly assess the need for the call and the right services to go, where the police will always be an option," he told the committee. "Quite often [the officer] will be dispatched in support of the social service worker or the mental health worker, but the immediate response will be the right resources and not just the police resources."

Sloly said he supports the idea of integrated police-social worker teams.

Councillors Shawn Menard and Catherine McKenney have tabled a notice of motion that calls for, among other things,  the creation of a non-police response team that would respond to calls not involving weapons or violence. The issue will be considered by council in late August.

 

Sloly cautioned against de-funding police at several points in his testimony before the parliamentary committee. He said police should not be cut back while other social services are bolstered, citing health-centred social service models such as in Scotland.

"De-investing and simply transitioning the money will create another gap in the service-delivery social safety net," Sloly said.

The chief told the committee that police need to be part of a crime prevention system that includes education, health, housing and non-profit organizations to address root causes of crime and keep people out of the criminal justice system.

Rideau-Rockcliffe Coun. Rawlson King is calling for the federal government to increase funding for social services by $15 million

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