(Canadian OH&S News) — The Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) has commended the Edmonton Police Service (EPS) for how its officers deal with people in crisis.
The MHCC launched its report, entitled TEMPO: Police Interactions — A report towards improving interactions between police and people living with mental health problems, at the 109th annual conference of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (CACP), held from Aug. 24 to 27 in Victoria. The report was the result of a comprehensive, seven-year survey of Canadian police organizations, a literature review, an international comparative review of police learning programs and direct interviews with a variety of police and mental health professionals.
All 12 of the basic police training academies reviewed reported specific content related to attitudes towards people with mental illness and how that might affect an officer’s behaviour and response, the study noted. Most of the academies specifically identified stigma, social and personal attitudes toward mental illness, and assumptions about the relationship between dangerousness, violence and mental disorders.
“Notably, only the Atlantic Police Academy, the Calgary Police, the Edmonton Police and the Justice Institute of British Columbia addressed all three of these areas in their curricula,” the report noted.
The report outlined 16 recommendations for police education and training to better prepare Canadian police personnel for interactions with people with mental illness. Key recommendations included:
* That police learning be designed and delivered by a combination of police personnel, adult educators, mental health professionals, mental health advocacy organizations and people living with mental illness;
* More inclusion of non-physical interventions (verbal communication, interpersonal skills, de-escalation, defusing and calming techniques) in use-of-force training;
* That provincial governments establish policing standards that include provision for mandatory basic and periodic training qualification or requalification for interactions with people with mental illness; and
* That training provides a better understanding of the symptoms of mental illness and the ability to assess the influence a mental illness might have on a person’s behaviour and comprehension.
Chief Clive Weighill, president of the CACP, said that the issue of mental health “is on the mind of every police leader in Canada. We are very optimistic that police services throughout Canada will use this as a framework to assess and improve their own training practices,” he said.
Regarding the EPS specifically, the report noted that the force’s curriculum, which includes dedicated mental health training, communication skills, crisis management, stress and human relations and control tactics, is estimated to take up to 52 hours of the total training course at the academy.
“It includes thorough coverage of signs and symptoms and a number of structured scenarios which ensure broad coverage and active problem-solving,” the report said, adding that evidence seemed to suggest that intensive empathy and scenario-based training tended to improve officer performance “at least in a population of officers who have already received some basic knowledge-based training about mental illness. Edmonton Police have traditionally covered this topic well in their academy level education.”
EPS Chief Rod Knecht said that the police service partnered with the University of Alberta last year for the Police and Crisis Team (PACT), which teams up police officers with registered psychiatric nurses or social workers to response to mental health-related calls on a 24/7 basis. In addition to training patrol officers who are usually first to respond to a crisis, PACT triages all calls, prioritizes for emergencies and provides on-site assessments, intervention and follow-up based on the circumstances of each situation.
“With a better understanding of those who suffer with mental illness, we can quickly identify the issues during an emergency call, de-escalate the situation and reduce the likelihood that force will have to be used,” Knecht added in a press release, noting that officers can only “react to other people’s actions.
“Even the best training and experience sometimes is not enough, and there are those times where officers have had to use levels of force. But if we can safely prevent a person from doing harm to themselves or to others, get them into the appropriate care and services, then we have succeeded.”