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Ottawa police asking for help developing new mental health response strategy

Posted: January 26, 2021

(January 25, 2021)

By: Josh Pringle, CTV News Ottawa

OTTAWA — The Ottawa Police Service is setting up a “Guiding Council” to develop its new Mental Health Response Strategy.

A report for Monday’s Ottawa Police Services Board meeting outlines plans to establish the arms-length council, made up of representatives from five community networks, to help the service understand the needs of the community, gather and share information and direct the initiative.

In the fall, the Ottawa Police Service (OPS) announced plans to develop a comprehensive mental health response strategy, to be implemented over the next three years. The report says the new strategy will include a “review of and improvements” to how police respond to people in mental health crisis.

“The strategy recognizes that the OPS must improve the way its members respond to calls for service where mental health and addictions are an issue,” said Ottawa police in a media release last week.

“But better crisis response is only part of the solution. We also recognize that new, more appropriate and effective options need to be created to replace police responses to many calls involving mental health and addictions.”

Police say new systems and networks need to be built or strengthened to develop a more appropriate response.

“This is a critical issue for our community and it is directly linked to our involvement in community safety and well-being,” said a statement from Deputy Chief Steve Bell. “We are listening and we are learning. The strategy will take a holistic look at the mental well-being landscape in Ottawa in an effort to provide better access to services for people in distress as we work towards better mental health outcomes in our community. ”

The report for Monday’s board meeting says, “The OPS cannot – and should not – develop, lead or direct this new mental health and addiction strategy on its own. Mental health is a community issue that necessitates a whole-of-community response.”

“This effort, while initiated by the OPS, will be co-created and led by an arm’s-length Guiding Council.”

Representatives of the City of Ottawa and Ottawa Public Health will be included on the Guiding Council. The Ottawa Police Service says the network partner’s to-date are:

  •  The Champlain Mental Health & Addictions Network
  •  Kids Come First – Mental Health & Addictions
  •  The Community Development Framework Coalition
  •  The Ottawa Black Mental Health Coalition
  •  The Ottawa Local Immigration Partnership

The report says other groups, including those that represent Indigenous, LGBTQ+, and intersections of sexuality and gender identity will be consulted. Ottawa police officers will be asked to submit feedback as part of the consultation process.

As part of the mental health response strategy, the Ottawa Police Service, Ottawa Public Health and the City of Ottawa will co-fund and create a secretariat to support the work of the Guiding Council and work under its direction.

Members of the Guiding Council will finalize the public consultation plan on the new Ottawa Police Mental Health Response Strategy. The service hopes to begin public consultations in the spring, which will include an online questionnaire and consultation meetings.

Statistics show the Ottawa Police Service responded to over 6,000 Mental Health Act calls in each of the past five years, including 6,398 in 2020.

“The OPS Mental Health Response Strategy will be a community-led initiative that seeks to provide better supports for those in mental health crisis,” said the report. “It recognizes that the police are not subject matter experts and looks to augment OPS response with support from mental healthcare workers, addictions specialists, and other professionals to ensure the right response at the right time for the person in need.”

The report says Ottawa Police will focus this year on new training to increase the number of officers with specialized mental health training embedded in every front-facing unit. The service will review and expand its de-escalation training and evaluate the expansion of the Mental Health Unit.

“We’re looking to bring this guiding council together to look at how we can find different ways to respond to mental health calls for service and ultimately have police play a lesser role in the mental health system,” said Deputy Police Chief Steve Bell on Tuesday.

“There’s mental health service providers, both institutional and community based, that have some really good ideas about how we can deliver service better but beyond that there’s lots of members of our community, either with lived experience or families who have people within their families that suffer from mental health, that can have and will have the opportunity to provide input on this,” Bell said.

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