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Ottawa police developing new strategy for calls involving mental health

The OPS says its officers respond to 6,000 calls for service every year that involve someone with a mental health crisis.
Ottawa police hat1
The hat of an Ottawa Police Service officer.

The Ottawa Police Service (OPS) says it is developing a new Mental Health Response Strategy that will be included in its 2021 draft budget.

According to a documents that will be presented to the Ottawa Police Services Board on Monday, the OPS responds to 6,000 calls for service every year that involve someone with a mental health crisis.

That number, they say, can be augmented by shifting demands that often happen during a call, which can include emergent responses and those with pre-existing or known issues. 

The OPS says it does have a mental health unit that is equipped with officers who have specialized training and are paired up with the Ottawa Hospital mental health nurses to attend addresses where people are known to have had prior mental health emergency calls. 

“This, in addition to check-ins of about 40 per day, that will often involve follow-up calls to ensure the resident’s safety, based on direct calls to the unit,” the OPS explains. “Our Memorandum of Understanding with TOH helps us to re-divert and redirect those in need to the support services to help them.”

In many cases, however, police say those in crisis will call the MHU directly based on existing relationships. 

But the new three-year strategy the OPS is drafting is designed to build new capacity to deal with mental health issues in the city, and will be developed and co-led in consultation with their partners in the mental health community. 

“The goal of the strategy [is] to identify better and more coordinated methods to help people in mental health crisis,” the document says. “This includes coordinating access to appropriate services for people with mental health issues.”

The strategy will focus on:

  • Initial response
  • Improved screening
  • Better follow-up
  • Increased training for frontline members

“We have seen year-over-year increase in calls for service to police related to mental health increase and the current system is not adequately addressing the needs of our community, specifically those who need better access to mental health services,” OPS says. “We also know that mental health issues are a major factor in calls for service to police.”

These calls, the OPS says, require a “disproportionate amount of officer time and effort.”

“It’s clear that more research needs to be done to ensure we understand the full impact,” the service says.

While the OPS says the strategy will be ready for the 2021 draft budget, it is not yet known exactly when the strategy will be ready for viewing.

This report comes after Ottawa Police Constable Daniel Montsion was acquitted of the charges against him in the Abdirahman Abdi trial — a confrontation in 2016 that involved a forceful arrest and lead to the events of the Somali-Canadian man’s death who was reported to have mental health issues.

Frustrated, demonstrators took to Ottawa’s downtown streets Saturday to protest the acquittal of the officer and how the situation was handled.

The five demands made of the city by the coalition are, by now, familiar progressive reforms to policing: to freeze a constantly expanding police budget; to relocate those budget increases to community services; to “fire Montsion, [Dave] Weir, [Matt] Skof, and any other violent police officer on the service”; for the province to grant the city municipal oversight of the police; to fund non-police mental health responders.

Ottawa city council recently voting against a proposal to shrink the increase to the police budget in order to fund public health.

- With files from Kieran Delamont

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