A small group of mental-health-care patients continues to consume a significant amount of the Vancouver Police Department’s time and resources. That’s despite those individuals’ enrollment in a program the provincial government has described as an effective money saver.
Since 2012, Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) has registered 309 mentally ill and addicted people with its Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) teams, an initiative that sees VCH partner with plainclothes VPD officers to provide care to people where they reside. Even with enrollment in ACT, this group has incurred negative interactions with police at a rate well above 600 incidents per year.
Statistics provided to the Straight in response to a freedom-of-information request pertain to current ACT clients and include apprehensions experienced before they joined the program.
In 2012, 139 of the 309 people presently enrolled in ACT incurred 635 “adverse police contacts”. Those incidents ranged from less serious apprehensions under the Mental Health Act to Criminal Code violations including violent offences and property crime.
In 2013, 150 current patients had 694 run-ins with police. And in 2014, police detained 155 ACT clients a total of 681 times.
Presented with these statistics, VCH and the B.C. Ministry of Health both refused repeated requests for interviews.
VCH spokesperson Anna Marie D’Angelo confirmed via phone that the cost of one ACT client per year is roughly $25,000 (including housing subsidies) and that Vancouver’s five ACT teams together cost approximately $8.75 million annually. She also said Vancouver’s ACT program is projected to grow its caseload to 450 patients.
According to a May 2014 government release, clients’ enrollment in the ACT program resulted in a 70-percent reduction in emergency-room visits and a 61-percent decline in contacts with the criminal-justice system. However, as the Straight reported last November, the sample on which those numbers are based was just 15 people, many of whom are no longer with the program. In the past, VCH has repeatedly refused the Straight's requests for a visit with ACT team members.
In a telephone interview, VPD Sgt. Randy Fincham conceded the VPD allocates a lot of resources to ACT clients but argued it isn’t time spent in vain.
“These are proactive apprehensions where they might not have been brought to our attention if they were not an ACT client,” he said. “At that point, the apprehensions are a good thing. What we’re doing is we’re reducing the potential that these people could have a negative contact down the road.”
Over the three-year period for which statistics were provided, arrests for violent crimes remained stable, at between 50 and 60 arrests per year. Drug offences, similarly, stayed between 80 and 100 per year. Street-disorder offences decreased significantly, from 68 to nine. Apprehensions under the Mental Health Act increased from 207 in 2012 to 323 in 2014.
Ann Livingston is a board member with the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood Council who has long been critical of how ACT teams operate in Vancouver. She noted that, according to internal VCH documents the Straight reported on last year, VCH is expanding ACT operations in Vancouver while it has yet to perform an official review of specific performance measures.
“You come to the section on evaluation and it says, ‘Not enough data to evaluate,’ ” she said. “There is nothing in them.”