A Metrotown apartment dweller captured a bird’s-eye view of a woman with a large steak knife being arrested beside a major Burnaby thoroughfare earlier this week.
The incident began at about 11:40 a.m. on Wednesday, when Burnaby RCMP got a call from a concerned citizen in the 4700 block of Kingsway, according to media spokesperson Cpl. Mike Kalanj.
“He reported that he encountered a woman wearing pyjamas and slippers, acting and speaking in what he deemed to be an aggressive manner, walking on the sidewalk with a knife in her hand,” Kalanj told the NOW.
Four officers were on the scene “moments later,” Kalanj said, and it was only minutes between the first police contact and the woman being taken into custody.
She was then taken to hospital by ambulance and certified under the Mental Health Act, according to Kalanj.
He said the video, which was posted on YouTube, captured a routine mental health call.
There would be at least three more such mental health apprehensions later that same day, he said.
Under section 28 of the Mental Health Act, police are given the authority to apprehend and bring to a doctor anyone with an apparent mental health disorder who is deemed to be a danger to themselves or others.
Kalanj, who was with the Burnaby RCMP’s mental health unit for six years before moving into his current role, said the call captured on video Wednesday “went great.”
“The first officer on scene identified himself as a police officer and established a dialogue,” Kalanj said. “While he communicated with the woman, the other officers were close enough to assist her if needed.”
In times of crisis, Kalanj said it can be hard to focus, so officers are trained to keep the communication simple and clear.
“Clarity can be reached quicker when only one officer is speaking. In an effort to keep the woman feeling safe and confident she was not in any danger, the secondary officers made sure there were no distractions from pedestrians and vehicles passing by.”
At first, the woman was confused and did not want to drop the knife, according to Kalanj, but the officer talking to her was eventually able to convince her to drop it and walk towards him.
“When it was safe to do so, two officers approached the woman, each taking hold of an arm,” Kalanj said. “She struggled a bit through this process, but with the communicating officer keeping her calm and focused, the secondary officers were able to apply the handcuffs without incident.”
Burnaby RCMP Chief Supt. Deanne Burleigh has said police are usually the last resort when it comes to mental health crises.
In May 2019, she spearheaded a new “hub approach” to the issue with the Burnaby Mobilization and Resiliency Table (BMART), which brings together the RCMP, the Ministry of Children and Family Development, Fraser Health, the Burnaby school district, Progressive Housing Society, Elizabeth Fry Society, the fire department and other local agencies for weekly meetings.
The approach is designed to get at the “roots instead of the leaves” of high-risk mental health situations in the community, Burleigh told the NOW in 2019.
“You see these acute situations and crisis situations on a daily basis,” she said. “What we’re hoping at the table is to address those before they become chronic – or deadly.”
Burnaby RCMP has also been working on getting a mental health car, such as those in Vancouver and Surrey, that would provide a mobile crisis response for people in mental-health crises.
In the meantime, Kalanj said the video captured this week gives local residents a chance to see how officers deal with such crises in the majority of cases.
“We go to so many of these files, and the only ones anyone ever hears about are the ones that go sideways, and they’re few and far between,” he said.