Who Knew? Hamilton Police were partnering with mental health professions for 20 years.

For members of the community who were painting “Defund the Police” on the street outside Hamilton City Hall today, they might have been better off following the livestreamed Hamilton Police Services meeting that was going on inside. Some of the newer members of the Hamilton Police service broad were surprised and delighted to learn that the HPS in conjunction with St.Joseph’s Healthcare has been doing at least one of the things that the de-fund group have been calling for 20 years—specifically diversion of police budget to trained mental health workers who would then reply to mental health crisis calls. It turns out Hamilton Police have been a leader in that  endeavor. A staff presentation described one program in particular–COAST (Crisis Outreach and Support Team. For more than 20 years the service has been providing services to people experiencing a crisis related to mental health and addictions. COAST is a partnership between mental health professionals from St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton and specially trained police officers from Hamilton Police Service.

COAST answers crisis telephone calls 24 hours a day, seven days a week. All phone calls are answered or returned within 15 minutes. COAST also is able to see people in the community between 8 am and 1 am every day to provide mobile mental health assessments and in-person support..

The COAST Mobile Team consists of a plainclothes police officer and a mental health professional (Registered Nurse, Occupational Therapist, or Social Worker), driving an unmarked car. They provide mobile assessments and support to people who may be experiencing a mental health crisis. People in crisis are identified through phone calls from the person themselves, from family or from any other concerned community members including Hamilton Police.

Crisis Triage and Support Workers respond to people in crisis who call the crisis line. In collaboration with other members of the team, they complete initial telephone assessments and provide follow-up support. Crisis Triage Workers also participate in community-based assessments of children and youth.

For more urgent cases there is the Mobile Crisis Rapid Response Team (MCRRT) team members are First Responders consisting of mental health professionals and dedicated uniformed police officers in a marked police cruiser. This team responds to 911 calls for persons in crisis. Expert mental health assessment and support can get to a person in crisis within minutes.

Board members were also given a presentation on the police Social Navigator Program (SNP) which aims to reduce reliance on the judicial and healthcare system by navigating at-risk individuals towards the appropriate agency while improving the health, safety, and quality of life for all citizens. Statistics provided show the program has reduced the number of repeat clients with growing success year after year.

The board was also brought up to date on an ongoing program to provide Crisis intervention training for officers. They now receive 40-hour mental health training program for Police Officers and communications staff. They receive three training sessions a year with an emphasis on de-escalation.

Board member, Councillor Tom Jackson praised the program urging Chief Eric Girt to get word of this “well-kept secret” out to a wider audience. “I know this would be of great assistance to my council colleagues,” Jackson said.

The full report is available here.

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