Last night Cst. Steve of the Vancouver Police Department, took us on a “tweet-a-long” during his evening shift to showcase a day in the life of a beat cop…”behind the blue line.”
Over the evolution of the evening it became clear to me, that the majority of ‘tweeters’ out there had very little idea of what constitutes “policing.” More over, that “tweeters” were unaware of the dedication and hard work police officers perform in our community. The VPD is integral to reporting statistics and interaction with mental health in all ofCanada. This is no easy task.
In our society, it is much easier to judge, misread and place blame, and then go back to our comfortable lives, while our police stand at the front lines and take ownership of their personal responsibility to keep our secured public safe. Why, I ask, are we so quick to blame, and to point the finger? Sometimes I think we forget. We forget that the role of the VPD is to assist our community, and in doing so every constable gets to know the patrons, whether they have a mental illness or not, they know them by name, they know their habits, and they do the best they can to assist within their scope of practice.
Mental health is one of the leading (dis)eases of our time, and is a multi tiered landscape that is not easily tackled, and requires many partners and working parts, outside of policing in order to fundamentally establish sustainable change. Policing is only one piece of this puzzle.
In the VPD’s defense, their Police Community Response Team operates several “cars” and teams that provide services and support of people struggling with significant life challenges on the DTES, like mental health and the dual problem of addiction.
Car 87 teams up a Vancouver Police constable with a registered nurse or a registered psychiatric nurse to provide on-site assessments and intervention for people with psychiatric problems. The nurse and the police officer work as a team in assessing, managing and deciding about the most appropriate action to take.
This program is a partnership between the Vancouver Police Department and Vancouver Coastal Health Authority – Mental Health Emergency Services (MHES); which was initiated in 1984 and was formalized in 1987.
In 2002, MHES logged approximately 13,000 calls and conducted approximately 1,850 outreach calls which resulted in 382 hospitalizations. In the 2010 “report card” outlined in the report “Policing Vancouver’s Mentally ill: The Disturbing Truth, Lost in Transition Part 2” the following were added to our city to support the VPD’s strategies:
- An additional 40 pre- and 40 post-transitional treatment beds were added to the BCMHA model of care.
- The City ofVancouvermade significant progress with respect to housing with some 2855 new, and to be built housing units coming on line.
- The three-year Federal Mental Health Commission of Canada “At Home/Chez Soi” project will also bring 300 new housing units on stream
- An Additional service with the VPD/Mental Health Emergency Services (MHES) Car 87 now offers, within the same unit, now can address concurrent disorder or dual diagnosis clients.
- A high level of daily contact requiring information exchange and cooperation between police and health services in Vancouverwith some 16,500 citywide such calls for service in 2009
- The City ofVancouverhad 69 suicides in 2008 and 84 suicides in 2007.
From a national perspective,Vancouverhas become the jurisdiction in which drug policy issues and different approaches to substance abuse are implemented, evaluated and debatedCanadawide. The VPD drug policy is based on a Four Pillars strategy of prevention, enforcement, harm reduction, and treatments, and they do a great job within their scope of practice. Drug reform, as we know needs to be re addressed and so does our national mental health strategy, but this of course in the hands of the health authorities and policy makers, not the VPD.
A shortage of low cost housing and a disconnect between social assistance/ shelter allowance and the price of rent is also a major consideration. All of which takes time, persistence and the ability to work together to achieve a sustainable result.
As a collective society, I believe it is time for all of us to take personal responsibility for what we are most passionate about and to take the time to learn, understand and investigate. The more we learn, the more we evolve. The more we blame, and only see one side of a story, the more we limit our perspective and the more we de-evolve.
Cst. Steve is one beat cop putting himself out there, and like anyone in the public eye, will be scrutinized. We need to understand that the position of police within the lens of mental health is to be a neutral partner, but one that assists this specific population within their scope and to be a ‘transitional” partner as they work health authorities, social workers, and key policy makers in this field.
As the global landscape of our community continues to change, so does our need for support, additional bandwidth and empowerment through positive connection, communication and community service. Due to an unprecedented rise in public interest and demand for safer communities, it has become clear that we need to start thinking more collectively within our networks and become empowered to become agents of change in our own capacity.
This morning, I awoke to many “digs” at the VPD, media centered around the negativity of comments, rather then the positive message the VPD was trying to portray. My philosophy has always been “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes” and see through the lens of another (especially if you oppose it). There is a vast difference between fact and reality, when we choose to have a limited scope and appreciation of any one story.
This blog piece is dedicated to the men and women who serve every day to keep the peace, who work day in and day out on the DTES. To all those who oppose, I feel your struggle with the need to solve this giant landscape of mental health. My only wish is that one day we can achieve a society where we harness the power of solutions, along with our voice, rather then misinterpret and merely “wag the finger.”
For more info on the VPD and mental health units please read the statistical reporting and cross pollination of the VPD, CMHA (Canadian Mental Health Association) and Federal positioning.
Cst. Steve’s Blog: Diary of a Beat Cop Blog: http://www.beatcopdiary.vpd.ca/