Mental Health
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Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Victoria’s own ‘Car 87:’ New team of police and psychiatric nurse to answer mental health calls

More details about the program, first launched in Vancouver, will be announced next week

By Brishti Basu
January 25, 2023
Mental Health
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Victoria’s own ‘Car 87:’ New team of police and psychiatric nurse to answer mental health calls

More details about the program, first launched in Vancouver, will be announced next week

By Brishti Basu
Jan 25, 2023
Victoria Police headquarters. Photo: Ryan Hook / Capital Daily
Victoria Police headquarters. Photo: Ryan Hook / Capital Daily
Mental Health
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Victoria’s own ‘Car 87:’ New team of police and psychiatric nurse to answer mental health calls

More details about the program, first launched in Vancouver, will be announced next week

By Brishti Basu
January 25, 2023
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Victoria’s own ‘Car 87:’ New team of police and psychiatric nurse to answer mental health calls
Victoria Police headquarters. Photo: Ryan Hook / Capital Daily

A new mental health response unit made up of one police officer and one nurse is set to launch soon in Victoria.

Victoria Police Chief Del Manak announced the unit as one of the department’s latest initiatives at a police board meeting last week.

“We're looking at the latest approval for the Car 87 model, which is…partnering with a mental health professional, and trying to mitigate some of those calls so that we can drive them to the healthcare system, rather than into the criminal justice system,” he told the board.

Created in 1978, the Car 87 program is a Vancouver-based partnership between the health authority—which hires a registered nurse—and the municipality—which pays for a plain clothes officer. Versions of the same unit exist today in Prince George, Surrey, North Shore, Richmond, Kamloops, and Kelowna, using either registered or psychiatric nurses.

In recent years, a spike in the number of mental health calls answered by police—which experts and advocates say are often met with more force than warranted—has prompted reviews and recommendations calling for mental health crises to be treated by dedicated healthcare workers. In November, Premier David Eby announced a $3 million fund to expand programs like Car 87 across BC.

But Manak’s initiative isn’t paid for by this new fund, according to the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions, which said in an emailed statement that it’s a partnership between Island Health and VicPD.

Neither party has yet answered Capital Daily’s questions about the upcoming program, which has not been previously reported.

In Greater Victoria, Island Health has a program—created in 1990—called the Integrated Mobile Crisis Response Team (IMCRT) through which healthcare workers respond to mental health calls over the phone and in person.

According to Island Health, the mobile crisis team has access to a plainclothes police officer, who is dedicated to the unit, if needed. IMCRT takes calls every day from 1pm until midnight through a dedicated phone line for people in southern Vancouver Island up to Sooke and Port Renfrew. Last year, the program received 3,608 calls.

It is unclear whether the Car 87 program referenced by Chief Manak is an expansion of IMCRT or a separate unit altogether.

On Tuesday, Island Health announced that a Car 54 program—the same type of unit with a different number—has been operating in Nanaimo since October.

“The goal of the Car 54 program is to resolve mental health crisis situations collaboratively and in the least intrusive way, which could include verbal de-escalation, the involvement of friends and family to help support the client, and determining if hospital care or other options are needed, such as referrals to community resources and supports,” the health authority said in their statement.


Crisis point

According to Curt Griffiths, a criminology professor at Simon Fraser University who has researched the use of police resources in BC municipalities, current plans to expand these units and other mental health services could be too little, too late.

Last year, Griffiths and other experts conducted a review of RCMP resource allocation in Prince George, which operates its own version of Car 87 (called Car 60).  

Griffiths and his colleagues spent seven months talking to police officers, municipal employees, and community groups and ended up recommending they add a second officer-psychiatric nurse unit to their existing team in response to a high volume of mental health calls.

“They need another unit primarily for coverage, because right now their hours are limited; they don't have overnight coverage,” Griffiths said. “It helps divert calls away from frontline police officers who don't have the skill sets to deal with persons who are having serious mental health crises.”

Based on his observations, Griffiths said these units typically take more time to respond to each call because the team needs to take the individual to the hospital and wait with them until they see a physician. As a result, one team might only be capable of responding to two or three calls during a 12-hour shift.

In Victoria, both police and municipalities have been expressing their support for alternative models to the current mental health response for years, as police are called to more and more crisis situations.

One such initiative, the Peer Assisted Care Team (PACT), is expected to launch in Victoria this month. Unlike Car 87, this team does not include police and instead involves peer workers and mental health clinicians. A similar team that has been running in North Vancouver for a year has responded to over 800 calls in that time and only had to involve the police fewer than 10 times.  

Though these Car 87 and PACT units are good news according to Griffiths, they may not be enough to resolve the “crisis point” BC has reached due to a lack of overall mental health services in the province.

“The issue is much larger than Car 87,” Griffiths said. “If a person, for example, who is addicted on the street says to a police officer, ‘I want to get clean,’ that officer should be able to say ‘Come with me right now,’ and by the afternoon, that person's in a treatment facility.”

At the moment, he said, people must wait up to nine months for a spot in a publicly funded addiction treatment facility in some parts of the province. On Vancouver Island, there are 33 publicly funded detox beds and 39 treatment beds, not including six new beds coming this year.

Recent announcements of new treatment beds from the province are “woefully inadequate” for Griffiths, who said provincial governments, both current and previous, should have coordinated with municipalities to come up with a mental health response plan several years ago.

Manak, at the meeting last week, said he was “cautiously optimistic” about the province’s current plans—like adding a handful of new treatment beds and approving funding for PACTs—but said he does not yet know whether these initiatives will ensure police take on fewer mental health calls.

“It would be hard right now to quantify what sort of impact that is going to have on giving police back some time and availability to be able to focus on our core duties,” Manak told Victoria and Esquimalt councils last Tuesday.

According to Esquimalt mayor and police board co-chair Barb Desjardins, Island Health and VicPD plan to share details about Victoria’s Car 87 program next week.

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