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Police form new Mental Health Response unit

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

After nearly a year of planning, the Durham police have a new unit specializing in mental health crises.

The new Mental Health Response Unit, in partnership with Lakeridge Health, is now active in the region and will specialize in responding to mental health related calls with the goal of providing specialized services and focusing on destigmatization and deescalation.

“I’m glad to see this coming,” said Bill McLean, a member of the Police Services Board and councillor from Pickering, adding that the unit had been over a year in the making.

Previously, the DRPS had an agreement with Durham Mental Health Services (DMHS), that saw nurses ride along with police officers for mental health calls. However, that agreement was terminated in October of 2016.

Under the old program, two nurses from DMHS would accompany two plain-clothed officers for mental health-related calls and help provide specialized services, such as diverting individuals away from emergency rooms. According to a report presented to the Durham Police Services Board in 2016, the team was responsible for diverting 299 people from Lakeridge Health Oshawa, 18 from Rouge Valley Hospital and 27 from other facilities between September 2015 and the end of August 2016. Instead of hospitals, these individuals were taken to more specialized care providers.

With the new unit, two registered nurses from Lakeridge Health will partner with DRPS officers to assist with mental health calls. Over the last year, the police received 3,277 mental health calls for service. Additionally, there were 1,609 mental health apprehensions involving 1,245 individuals.

DRPS Inspector Bruce Townley explained that the unit will start getting annual funding in the amount of $110,000 from the Central East Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) and there are discussions ongoing about expanding the unit in the future.

Currently, of the 450 frontline police officers, 180 of them have specialized mental health training. According to Chief Paul Martin, the force attempts to train an additional 20 officers each year under the mental health related programming.