A new team is going to play an important role in how the Estevan Police Service (EPS) responds to mental health calls moving forward.
The EPS has received provincial support for a Police and Crisis Team (PACT) that will provide service to Estevan and area.
Warren Morrical, the acting chief of the Estevan Police Service, said police agencies are very good at continuously assessing the service they provide to communities.
But police across the country have been criticized for the use of a traditional policing model or models to deal with mental health concerns, he said.
“During that same time frame, police have become kind of a one-stop shop for people’s problems, where officers are required to act in the capacity of social worker, negotiator, mediator, law enforcer, educator, medical responder, mental health professional and the list goes on and on,” said Morrical.
As a result of these circumstances, and ongoing assessments that they’re conducting, a mental health gap has been identified between existing service capabilities and clients’ needs in Estevan.
The former administration applied to the provincial government, and was granted funding, through both the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Corrections and Policing, to establish the PACT unit locally.
The PACT concept is new to the Estevan Police Service and the Estevan area, but it is not new to Saskatchewan. The units are currently in place in Regina, Saskatoon, Prince Albert, Moose Jaw, North Battleford and Yorkton, and Morrical noted that some of the units have been so successful that they are examining options for expansion.
“The PACT team approach is a client-centred, collaborative community safety model,” said Morrical.
In Estevan’s case, it will involve a specialized team with one police constable and one mental health worker, both working out of the Estevan Police Service’s building.
“The responsibility of the PACT team will be to provide a more immediate response to individuals experiencing mental health crises or addictions concerns. It’s going to allow us to connect clients to the other resources available, things like counselling services, addictions services, and provide for a more consistent follow-up to ensure safety and well-being of all of those involved,” said Morrical.
From 2017 to October 2020, the EPS received 469 calls for service involving some form of a mental health concern or issue. Of the 469 calls, 216 required the transportation of an individual or individuals to mental health or emergency services facilities, whether it be locally, or Weyburn or Regina.
There has been an increase in the number of mental health-related calls the EPS receives and the severity of them. Often those calls have links to drug use and addiction, including methamphetamines and crystal meth, which, with significant use, can have an impact on an individual’s mental state.
The pandemic and the economy have also resulted in increased mental health calls.
“The end results that we are working towards through the PACT team are going to be, and include, reduced repeat calls for service involving mental health and addictions, reduced violent interactions with clients, reduced apprehensions and transports, and reduced time for both our clients and attending police officers, who are waiting on admissions to treatment facilities,” said Morrical.
The EPS is hoping for better end results for the individuals they come in contact with.
And it will free up the current members to respond to other calls.
“Our members, currently of course, are dealing with these types of calls based on their existing experience and their existing education,” said Morrical.
The current members do an exceptional job when responding to mental health calls, but the PACT team will reduce the impact of addictions and mental calls on the community, and on resources required from the EPS.
The money for the PACT squad was announced in the provincial budget last month.
There are still some things that need to be worked out, including a start-up date for the unit. Also to be decided is who will be the police constable and the mental health worker for the unit, a process that Morrical is working on.
“The individual selected to be the constable on the PACT team will have the sole focus of calls related to mental health and addictions, and things that the PACT team will be designated towards.”
The mental health worker will be in addition to the existing complement of staff.
Also to be determined will be the full jurisdiction for PACT, since it will respond to calls in Estevan and area. Morrical expects that will be determined based on communication with the RCMP and the needs they have for the surrounding area.
“We are open to the idea of providing service to Estevan and area. What that looks like just yet, I don’t have a firm answer on,” he said.
The EPS is working diligently to connect with the existing PACTs, and will take what works for them, determine their gold-standard practices, adjust them to meet the needs of people in Estevan and move forward.
A pre-existing office space in the police building will be dedicated to PACT.
May 9-15 is National Police Week, and this year’s theme is “Working Together to keep our Communities Safe.” The creation of a PACT unit is another great example of how the EPS is doing exactly that, Morrical said.