Twelve per cent of calls to the Nelson Police Department in 2020 were related to mental health concerns.
In 2020, 802 of the 6,456 total calls for service to the department featured a mental health component, according to data provided by NPD.
Chief Paul Burkart told the Nelson Star on Thursday that a mental health call may include a wide variety of incidents including the possibility of suicide to less serious calls such as a dispute between neighbours.
These calls don’t always warrant police response, he said, and the inclusion of a case into the mental health column by an officer shouldn’t be taken as the equivalent of a diagnosis by medical health official.
“If we feel that they’re suffering from a mental illness, and they’re a danger to themselves or others, we will bring them up to hospital and then it will be up to the medical staff to decide that because it’s a medical thing, right? We’re involved only simply because we get calls for them,” said Burkart.
The rise in mental health calls has grown relative to an increase in total calls for service over the last three years.
There were 713 mental health-related calls out of 6,234 total calls for service in 2018. In 2019, those numbers each rose to 774 and 6,305, respectively. One individual, Burkart added, may also account for more than one of the calls received.
A mental health call can also be classified as a criminal call. The 2019 stabbing of a woman on Baker Street, Burkart said, is an example of a case police categorized as both criminal and with a mental health component.
The role of municipal police and RCMP related to mental health calls is currently under review by the provincial government after public safety minister Mike Farnworth announced a review of the Police Act due to be completed in May.
In June 2019, the BC Coroners Service recommended police forces be incorporated into the provincial government’s mental health and addictions strategy, while also ensuring officers were trained to be sensitive to mental health issues.
Burkart said his officers receive training in de-escalation and are capable of answering mental health-related calls. But those calls, he said, can also take away resources from police when they are needed elsewhere.
For that to happen, he said, more mental health staff are needed to cover evenings and weekends.
“The reality is, unless you have somebody on call or staff on duty, the police are going to be attending mental health calls for two-thirds of the day because [mental health] staff is off.”
Even then, he added, police would still be required to attend any call where there’s the potential for violence.
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