New Winnipeg police pilot project will pair plainclothes officer with mental health worker

A new police pilot project will ensure people who call Winnipeg’s 911 emergency line in the midst of a mental health crisis will be seen by a specialized support worker.

The Alternative Response to Citizens in Crisis project will pair an armed police officer in plain clothes with a mental health clinician, Winnipeg police chief Danny Smyth announced on Monday. The teams will be sent out after uniformed police check on the situation to determine it’s safe.

Four full-time officers coming from the vulnerable persons and community relations units will be paired with a pool of clinicians over a 12 hour period Monday to Friday.

“We have limited resources to try this pilot, as much as we’d like to go 24/7, we’ve cobbled together what we can,” Smyth said.

Insp. Chris Puhach said the pilot will run for one year.

“We would expect to see an overall reduction in police calls for service as well as an increase in participation in services offered to them,” he said.

In 2020, Winnipeg police did 18,991 well-being checks, making it the most common reason for calling police.

That same year, officers made 2,102 trips to a health-care facility with people in crisis and spent about 3,533 hours, or the equivalent of 147 days, waiting to turn the person over to clinical staff.

“This can be an additional trauma or trigger for individuals experiencing a mental health crisis and it often doesn’t allow for the needed connections to other resources, either across the health system or in the community,” said Dr. James Bolton, the medical lead of Shared Health Crisis Response Services.

He said the goal is to help people who are in crisis frequently with more consistent follow up care including treatment and housing.

The project will launch in December.

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