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The Police Mental Health Liaison officer works with community partners and agencies to provide long term solutions for individuals whose mental health needs directly impact their contact with police. Clients either have a significant number of police contacts related to their mental health needs or high risk incidents where mental health is a significant component.
BC Schizophrenia Society Fraser Central Coordinator, Nancy Friesen, was recently working with a young woman whose mother lives with a mental illness but was not taking her medications. The mother’s behavior was escalating but the young woman was afraid to call 911 because of a previous negative experience with the police.
With the young woman’s permission, Nancy called the non-emergency line for the Maple Ridge RCMP and spoke to Constable Cara Thomson, the Mental Health Liaison. Nancy explained the situation and discussed with Constable Thomson how the mother may be able to present well for short periods of time. Constable Thomson understood this and said she would stay as long as necessary to get the mother to the hospital. Constable Thomson also agreed to come in plain clothes and park her police car around the corner from the house so as not to cause a scene or alarm the mother. Constable Thomson called the young woman and told her when she would come and that she would come with a nurse. She arrived exactly when she said she would, was at the house for at least 45 minutes, and was able to get the mother admitted at the hospital with no hand cuffs and no scene.
After hearing about the excellent work done by Constable Thomson, we asked to do a short interview with her so we can learn more about her job:
Cara Thompson: I have been the Mental Health Police Liaison for approximately 5 years. In those years, my role has become more detailed and developed. I review all Mental Health files in order to ensure best practices are being followed by all members in terms of RCMP policy and the Mental Health Act. I also do outreach with a mental health nurse one day a week where we attend the residences of clients who were referred to me by the general duty officers who may have spent time with them on a police call. For example, if a member attends a residence for a complaint and they find the person there has mental illness, although there is not much the police officer can do at the time, they refer it to me. I then look into the person’s police contacts, speak to the Mental Health Centre about their possible mental illness history, and then make sure they are getting the support that they need in the community. I also meet with people who other agencies have concerns about, such as the Caring Place, Probation, the Mental Health Centre, and Alouette Addictions. Most of the people I see are creating multiple calls for police to attend. I usually have the nurse with me, and we can do an assessment to determine if the person is an immediate risk to themselves or others, and then bring them to the hospital. If they are managing in the community, we can try to get them to see a psychiatrist at the mental health centre, or if addiction is their issue, then at Alouette Addictions.
CT: The biggest challenge in my work concerns people with concurrent disorders. There is one therapist for people with addictions and mental illness at the local mental health center. This is definitely not enough. A lot of people that the police are coming into contact with are drug users and it is difficult to do any kind of mental health assessment when someone is on drugs. Along with this, because a person is on drugs, often the hospital will not accept them as being mentally ill as they believe their behaviour is due to the drugs. Lastly, people cannot be court ordered to take addiction rehabilitation, so this leads to people living at continual risk due to addictions. Treatment is all voluntary.
CT: The strategies that I believe work are partnerships and community networking. Maple Ridge is a tight knit community, and most clients are well known to many service providers. By completing a file review of police interactions, and then liaising with other service providers who may have attempted to assist previously, duplication and overlapping of services can be eliminated. I have a monthly meeting with partners such as the ones above, as well as Alouette Correctional for Women, Alouette Homestart Society, Ridge Meadow Hospital, and others, and we brainstorm our toughest clients, discuss community concerns and programs, and keep our connections to each other strong so that we know we can approach whatever agency we need for support. This meeting has been going strong for five years and it is definitely effective.
CT: Look for your local mental health liaison at your local police station. Most have them in the lower mainland, and they are starting to be developed up north. Families can speak to this liaison with their concerns if there are safety concerns, which can include not eating or taking care of self, on-going suicidal comments, lack of supports in an area including psychiatrists, etc. Just as every person with a mental illness is different, how the police can assist may be different with each client. To do this, just call the non-emergency line and ask to speak with the liaison. It is best to make this connection before a crisis occurs since the liaisons are not usually first responders. If there is a mental health emergency, call 911 and the liaison can always be involved afterwards.
Are you looking for resources in your area? Take a look below for some contact information:
*Note: there is dedicated Mental Health Liaison Officer in the Terrace area
Terrace Police Non-Emergency Phone: 250-638-7400
Contacts: Staff Constable Mike Robinson or Constable Ryan Ferris
Community Policing Mental Health Liaison
RCMP Non-Emergency Phone: 604-463-6251
Constable Cara Thomson, Mental Health Liaison
Constable Arthur Kalanj, Mental Health Liaison Officer: 604-294-7922
Constable Wells, Mental Health Liaison Officer: 604-945-1550
Currently working on implementing a Mental Health Liaison Officer – call 604-461-3456 for more information.
Constable Arthur Wlodyka, Mental Health Liaison Officer: 604-525-5411
Denise Armstrong BSW, MSW, RSW
Social Worker and RCMP Liaison
Chilliwack Mental Health Centre
2nd fl. 45470 Menholm Rd. Chilliwack, BC
Constable Angela Scott
Mental Health Liaison Officer
Abbotsford Police Department
Constable Hersi, Mental Health Liaison Officer: 604-869-7750
Constable Berkey, Mental Health Liaison Officer: 604-826-7161