RCMP across the province are being called to mental health-related incidents more often while crime is trending downward.
That was the police force’s response to the Star’s inquiry after the Regional District of the Central Kootenay board expressed alarm last week at the number of mental health calls coming in to local RCMP detachments.
Sgt. Rob Vermeulen, senior media relations officer for the RCMP in BC didn’t provide a percentage of overall calls that are related to mental health, but did offer examples demonstrating how some mental health clients can create what he called a “disproportionate number of calls” for police assistance.
“A recent study by one detachment found eight people with mental health needs were responsible for a staggering 1,500 calls to police in four years,” wrote Vermeulen.
The solution to mental health-related issues requires a greater societal response, he added.
“Crime is trending downwards, but mental health issues continue to be a significant concern to police, who often find they are addressing anti-social and criminal behaviour resulting from mental health issues.”
Vermeulen wrote that the RCMP, like other police agencies, are very supportive of a collaborative approach for mental health clients and for individuals with mental health challenges and addictions.
“Our police officers frequently go above and beyond what is expected of them in these situations,” he said, “taking extra care and time to build relationships with people who suffer frequent mental health crises in their communities.”
Board questions staffing levels
The regional district board also wondered if a staff shortage may be contributing to the problem.
The RCMP budget is set by the province. A combination of factors are used, including but not limited to positions occupied, unit needs and historical expenditure patterns.
According to the municipal police agreement, and subject to the commanding officer’s discretion, the policy states, “no member will be replaced when attending a training course related to the Municipal Police Service, when on annual leave, or when ill except where illness results in a member’s absence for a period of more than 30 consecutive days.”
Any staffing changes must be filled within one year of a written request.
Asked if the policy means vacancies resulting from maternity, parental, or sick leave would not be filled, Vermeulen said that isn’t necessarily the case.
“I can’t speak to a specific situation but there are processes in place to deal with long-term absences. Each case is assessed and reviewed individually.”