The mental health intervention unit started by Abbotsford Police a year ago has been deemed a success.
Deputy Chief Rick Lucy said at Tuesday’s police board meeting that the Abbotsford Police Department is now considering adding a second person to work with mental health liaison officer Const. Linda Buchanan.
“There are opportunities to make this even better. It’s been a real success … It’s made a difference in the lives of people and their families,” Lucy said.
Chief Bob Rich said it is estimated that one in 10 calls that police receive in Abbotsford is related to mental-health issues. This compares to one in four in Vancouver.
Before the mental health intervention unit was formed, police had little ability to offer resources to individuals or to follow up on what happened to them.
“They would come through our door and go back out,” Buchanan said during a presentation to the police board.
Now, police handling a mental-health matter can consult with Buchanan on how to best handle the issue.
She regularly connects with agencies such as Abbotsford Mental Health, Fraser Health, the Salvation Army and Abbotsford Community Services to ensure people receive the necessary support.
They also meet as a group every two months to discuss specific individuals and what can best be done to help them.
Buchanan gave the example of a man who was aggressively panhandling in the community. He had mental-health and substance-abuse issues, and police received more than 100 calls in one year about him.
The mental health intervention unit became involved, referring him to services that could help and working with the partner agencies. It made a huge difference in his life and reduced the police resources in dealing with him, Buchanan said.
“(Now) he is recognizing when he is sliding and does things in a positive way to get himself back on track.”
Buchanan said another positive outcome is that waiting times have been reduced at Abbotsford Regional Hospital for patients with mental-health issues.
She said the average wait used to be 2.5 to three hours, tying up police who have to wait with patients until they are seen by a doctor. Now, the average is one hour and 26 minutes.
Buchanan said she also reviews every police file that has a mental-health component to see if there are individuals who have ongoing issues that can be better handled.
Outgoing mayor George Peary applauded the efforts of everyone involved.
“The more preventive work we can do, the more plans we can put in place to help the individuals, and the better off the community will be,” he said.