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Region considering non-police-led crisis response

Response team to help with mental health de-escalation

By Chris Jones/The Oshawa Express

With all eyes on police right now, regional council is looking to take pressure off the police force by looking into a non-police-led crisis response team.

Brought forward by Ajax Mayor Shaun Collier and seconded by Oshawa Mayor Dan Carter, the motion is “asking for information” on seeking a collaborative effort between the region and the Durham Regional Police Service (DRPS) and other frontline services that answer crisis calls.

The goal is to have an active team which is able to help de-escalate situations involving mental health, and will consist of members properly trained to work in those situations.

According to the motion presented by Collier and Carter, four people have died during a 90-day span in Canada during police wellness checks. All were people of colour.

DRPS has also seen an increase of 71 per cent in Mental Health Act apprehensions over the last four years, says the motion.

Ultimately, Collier and Carter hope for non-violent crisis intervention to be delivered by teams led by highly trained mental health professionals, who are also trauma and culturally informed.

The two mayors believe this will build trust in diverse communities, remove association or symbols of crime in a medically driven response, including wellness checks. The team will be deployable any day or night across Durham.

With the approval of the motion, council has directed staff to look at “best practices” across the world, and to also develop a detailed proposal with an action plan and timeline for 24/7 mobile crisis response teams.

The DRPS Police Board has also been instructed to consider new policy reforms within the current budget, and to overhaul how police services deals with those in crisis.

Costs savings will be rerouted to community services and mental health programs.

The region is also calling on the province to make changes to the Mental Health Act to expand the authority of mental health services to act as leaders during mental health crisis interventions.

Ward 5 City and Regional Councillor Brian Nicholson praised the motion.

“This is one of the most forward thinking, progressive, and collaborative motions I’ve seen in a long time,” says the veteran councillor.

Nicholson sees this as an opportunity to modernize police services.

“It’s time to put aside the confrontation, and find a collaborative approach,” he says.

Ward 3 City and Regional Councillor Bob Chapman, a former police officer, also expressed his approval for the motion.

“A number of years ago, how mental health was assisted changed. We closed up institutions, people went out into the community,” he says, adding he believes this motion will continue to help.

Oshawa’s Ward 1 regional representative John Neal also approved of the motion.

“It’s about time we started walking the talk,” he says.

When all was said and done, only one councillor voted against the motion, Clarington’s Joe Neal, who believes police are doing a good job.

Staff have been instructed to return to council with a comprehensive presentation on a 24/7 mobile crisis response program before the 2021 budget.