Meet the Ottawa psychiatrist taking a new look at policing in the capital

Ottawa’s newest police services board chair says she hopes she can bring a new perspective to policing in the nation’s capital, but she does not believe in dramatically changing how police operate.

On Wednesday, city council unanimously approved the appointment of Dr. Gail Beck to the Ottawa Police Services Board and recommended she serve as chair. The board elected her to the position of chair on Friday.

Beck is the interim Psychiatrist-in-Chief and Chief of Staff at the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. She has served on numerous boards both medical and otherwise. She is chair of the board of governors at Algonquin College, according to the Royal’s website.

Speaking on Newstalk 580 CFRA’s CFRA Live with Andrew Pinsent, Beck said she believes her appointment sends a message that mental health responses are important to the city.

“When I received the call, that was one of the things that struck me, and then realizing myself the mayor’s reputation as a champion of mental health, I think that does send a strong signal,” she said. “I think that here have been other signals from other members of council, from the police force itself, as well as from the public that we want to turn a number of new lenses policing in Ottawa and that’s likely a good thing.”

Beck noted Mayor Mark Sutcliffe’s work at the Royal as member of the Foundation for Mental Health and his 11 years chairing the Royal’s Champions of Mental Health Breakfast, saying it sends a signal that the city wants to change the way police interact with people in mental health distress.

“Even police leadership has said that it needs to examine this more closely,” Beck said.

Sloly had said during his time as police chief that he supported the city’s Community Safety Wellbeing Plan, but that it would require everyone from city council and the police service to members of the public coming together to make sure it works.

Beck said her experience on the various boards she’s sat on or chaired over the years will serve her well in tackling the issues.

“We need to have discussions and dialog within the community, between the community that the police serve, between council and other stakeholders in the community… to really bring together what would be the best solutions not just in specific cases, but just in general in our community,” she said.

“I think, in this city, we saw a real need for policing during the convoy downtown. At that point, we knew we needed, in part, a policing solution, so the idea of completely altering how police works is not necessarily a good idea, but looking through it with increased dialog… I’m hoping that that dialog, which is my role to foster as chair, is what the city of Ottawa is looking for,” she said.

The next  full Ottawa Police Services Board meeting is scheduled for May 29. The OPSB Policy and Governance Committee meets this coming Monday.

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