Jim Chu began his term as Vancouver’s chief of police the morning after an animator named Paul Boyd attacked two officers and was subsequently shot and killed in the street.
According to a B.C. coroner’s report, Boyd was bipolar and off medication at the time of the incident.
For Chu, there’s no doubt it was a tough first day on the job.
“There is definitely more to do in that area,” he told reporters. “I think we’ve done a good job advocating for more services for people that are vulnerable so that they can lead better lives. We’ve opened up these new partnerships with [Vancouver] Coastal Health in terms of assertive outreach, assertive community treatment. We’ve got 17 or 18 officers working full-time in this area to try to help people so we don’t have crisis calls, to try and prevent a crisis from happening in the first place….But that’s something the mayor and I will continue to work on for the next three or four months.”
Speaking earlier that morning, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson also used the opportunity presented by Chu’s retirement to call attention to what the two men have together described as a “mental health crisis”.
“Our city has had incredibly difficult struggles with people with mental illnesses who are not getting treatment,” Robertson said. “The VPD has become, in recent years, really the frontline workers dealing with a lot of those tragedies and the crisis that we have with mental health.”
Robertson praised Chu’s efforts to call attention to the issue.
“Reaching out to the premier and the minister of health, reaching out across the country to make sure that this is an issue that chiefs across the country are talking about, I think has been incredibly important in addressing an issue that we, frankly, have been way behind on and that has compounded the challenges for policing in Vancouver and Canada,” Robertson said.
The mayor and police chief began raising the issue publically in September 2013. “The answer for someone suffering a mental-health crisis is not a cop with a gun,” Chu said with Robertson at his side. “We need a shift from dealing with the crisis to preventing the crisis from occurring in the first place.”
A number of related indicators experienced steady increases during the second half of Chu’s time as police chief.
From 2010 to 2014, annual VPD apprehensions under Section 28 of the Mental Health Act increased by 32.8 percent, to more than 3,000 arrests per year.
Over the last five years, emergency mental-health visits to St. Paul’s Hospital and Vancouver General Hospital increased 50.2 percent, to 9,790 in 2014.
During the same period, substance-misuse visits to the two hospitals’ emergency departments grew 103.7 percent, to 5,660 in 2014.
Last September, the Straight asked Health Minister Terry Lake if the situation presented in such statistics could continue to get worse.
“Will we see those numbers continue to go up?” he asked. “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.”
Series: Chasing a crisis
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
Part five: Vancouver's ill and addicted lost in a mental-health care maze