How police respond to mental-health emergencies and the number of calls officers respond to vary widely across Metro Vancouver, statistics obtained by the Straight reveal.
The numbers come from the RCMP and concern apprehensions recorded under the B.C. Mental Health Act.
Adjusted for population, they show that roughly three years ago, the five jurisdictions analyzed—Richmond, Burnaby, Coquitlam, Surrey, and North Vancouver—all used the Mental Health Act about the same amount.
At that time, annual apprehensions under the act for all five cities ranged from approximately 200 to 300 instances per 100,000 people per year.
However, projected out to the end of 2016, gaps have widened to range from about 300 to nearly 600 cases per 100,000 people per year.
Noticeable increases have occurred in every jurisdiction analyzed.
Looking at totals (as opposed to numbers adjusted for population) the most significant change is in Surrey, where RCMP apprehensions under the Mental Health Act increased from an estimated 1,296 in 2013 to 2,620 projected for 2016. Coquitlam has also seen a sharp rise, from 376 to 804.
In comparison, RCMP officers in Richmond, Burnaby, and North Vancouver don’t use the act as often, though numbers are on the rise Richmond.
The Mental Health Act outlines how police should assist hospitals with mental-health care. The legislation also gives police discretion to take an individual into custody if they are deemed to pose a risk to themselves or others.
In a telephone interview, RCMP Sgt. Annie Linteau, a spokesperson for the force’s Lower Mainland detachments, said many factors could account for the statistical discrepancies observed from one RCMP jurisdiction to the next. According to Linteau, those might include population density, the size of a city’s homeless population, and the prevalence of addiction issues.
“You are going to have some areas that have more instances of mental-health-related calls,” she said. “It can be affected by so many factors. Homeless is quite often linked so mental-health issues and the same goes for addictions to drugs and alcohol.”
Linteau stressed that training for RCMP officers is the same regardless of which jurisdiction they serve in. Every officer in Canada travels to Regina for basic training and a portion of that is dedicated to mental health, she said. Furthermore, in B.C., RCMP officers receive an additional course on mental health as per a requirement set by the provincial government.
Sue Hammell is the B.C. NDP opposition critic for mental health and the MLA for Surrey-Green Timbers. She compared the RCMP numbers to those of the Vancouver Police Department. In 2016, the VPD will record an estimated 790 mental-health apprehensions per 100,000 people, a number far above Surrey’s 558 and roughly double that of the other four jurisdictions reviewed.
Hammell said that could mean the RCMP is not responding to mental-health emergencies with the same care that’s taken by Vancouver officers.
“I think there is a great potential for that when you have a national force versus a local police force,” she said. “The culture of a local police can be influenced much more directly by the values and the culture of that community.”