Mental health strategy needed for province, says Windsor police chief

Windsor police chief Al Frederick wants the public to be aware that when officers are tied up with mental health calls, they may take longer to respond to other incidents in the community.

Al Frederick wants the public to be aware how much resources are tied up with mental health calls

Windor police chief Al Frederick tells CBC News a high volume of mental health calls means officers will be delayed responding to other incidents. (CBC)

Windsor police chief Al Frederick wants to alert the public about the sheer amount of resources required to respond to mental health calls.

On Monday, his officers responded to five high-risk mental health incidents over seven hours. In one case, as many as eight patrol units were involved, logging a total of 28 police hours.

CBC News sat down with Frederick to talk about the increase in mental health calls to police, which is a trend he says could slow response times for other investigations in the community. 

Why does this concern you so much? 

Al Frederick: When our officers are engaged in such an intense search for a missing person with mental health issues, all of our resources are tied up exclusively to that call. That's a concern. When I have eight units assigned to one missing person who's at high risk of suicide, they're not engaging in any other initiatives.

We need to come to grips. These are limited resources. The outcomes are critical, but other things are unaddressed at that time. Other people will wait. We could have an accident. They could be waiting two to three hours when incidents like this occur. 

The bigger concern is we have a health crisis that's continuing. It's growing. It's an added burden on our resources each and every day and that is consistent across the province. 

Initiatives like the COAST program are designed to help those with mental health issues. Why are those efforts not reflected in the number of calls you get? 

AF: People are very comfortable with calling the police about crisis in their families. Social media has really increased people's awareness of other people in crisis. And, I think mental health is something that's growing in communities.

What specific strategies would you like to see? 

AF: The model is there. As we progress and learn more as an organization, we're getting better at responding. But at the same time, the problem seems to be growing. The educational institutions, the root causes, that's something that could be looked at more in depth.

Next week, the province is here to talk about the Police Services Act. As chief, what will you be bringing to the table? 

AF: We need a recognition, a more in-depth assessment of why it's increasing and what the role of every agency is. The hospital, universities, police services, health care system. How it all works together on behalf of these people. That's what we want. What's the plan, and what works. How can you prove to me if we take this step, put financial and human resources behind this effort, that it's going to work? Show me the empirical data it's going to work.