This past year Vancouver police officers spent more time than ever before dealing with people who struggle with a mental illness and/or addiction.
In a telephone interview, VPD Const. Brian Montague said the department is still reviewing statistics for the end of December. But he reported that for 2014, the final number of VPD apprehensions under Section 28 of the Mental Health Act is going to be right around 3,025.
That’s more than eight arrests a day. It also marks a five-year high for apprehensions made under Section 28 of the Mental Health Act, which permits officers to detain individuals deemed to have a mental disorder and to pose a threat to themselves or others.
According to Montague, in 2013 there were 2,872 such apprehensions, in 2012 there were 2,636, in 2011 there were 2,489, and in 2010 there were 2,278—an increase of between 100 and 200 per year.
Transit Police, a regional authority responsible for areas covered by TransLink services, has reported a similar increase in interactions with people experiencing mental-health issues.
A request for the most up-to-date numbers was not returned by deadline. But in October, spokesperson Anne Drennan supplied the Straight with a projected year-end total. That number is 2,322 Transit Police “files with a mental health component”, a 36-percent increase over 2013, Drennan noted.
Asked today if the numbers will continue to climb next year, Montague responded, “Only time will tell. I hope it doesn’t. We’re seeing tragedy after tragedy.”
Faced with the same question at a press conference in September, B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake conceded it is possible the situation could continue to get worse.
“Will we see those numbers continue to go up?” said Lake, speaking to reporters at a press conference. “I hope not. But at the same time, we recognize that around North America—it’s not just in British Columbia—you are seeing police departments having to deal with mental-health issues.”
In past interviews, Montague noted that eight Section 28 arrests per day is a high number, but also one that only reveals a fraction of the problem. Many calls are not serious enough to end with an apprehension and therefore aren't marked down as such.
In September 2014, Montague reported the VPD now deals with between 75 to 100 interactions involving a mental-health component every day. That translates to 27,375 to 36,500 VPD calls involving a mental illness during 2014.
At the same time, Montague stressed it's a small minority of people with mental-health challenges who encounter police. He added that the mentally ill are more likely to incur harm than inflict it.
The Vancouver Police Department has repeatedly asked for assistance on the issue. September marked one year having passed since VPD chief Jim Chu stood alongside Mayor Gregor Robertson and called attention to the increasing frequency with which police are the first point of contact for people with mental-health challenges.
“The answer for someone suffering a mental-health crisis is not a cop with a gun,” Chu said then. “We need a shift from dealing with the crisis to preventing the crisis from occurring in the first place.”
Chasing a crisis
Through September 2014 the Straight ran a series of articles exploring how Vancouver cares for the severely mentally ill.
Part one: Vancouver police still seeking help to prevent a mental-health crisis
Part two: Amid a mental-health crisis, Vancouver care providers revisit the debate on institutionalization
Part three: Vancouver service providers fail to get ahead of a mental-health crisis
Part four: B.C. prisons lock mentally-ill offenders in isolation