Vancouver police seeing increase in mental health calls

Woman arrested under Mental Health Act after delivering twins at Oppenheimer Park

The Vancouver Police Department is seeing a steady increase in the number of times it arrests people under the Mental Health Act.

The most recent statistics available from the department indicate police arrested 358 more people under the Act in 2012 than in 2010 for a total of 2,636 arrests.

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More and more, were becoming the agency of first resort where were dealing with more mental health issues, said Const. Brian Montague, a VPD media liaison officer.

The majority of arrests for the statistical period occurred in the policing district that includes the Downtown Eastside and runs east to Boundary Road.

Second to that district was the area of downtown that includes the central business centre, the West End and Stanley Park.

The calls to the Downtown Eastside follow a trend the VPD revealed in a 2008 report that said 42 per cent of all police calls were related to mental illness.

The area is widely known to have residents addicted to drugs and suffering from various forms of mental illness, which was highlighted July 24 in the arrest of a woman who gave birth to twins in Oppenheimer Park.

Officers arrested the woman under the Mental Health Act and her babies were placed under the care of the Ministry of Children and Family Development.

Police were concerned the woman was going to harm the newborns, said Police Chief Jim Chu, who updated reporters Friday on what was initially reported the previous day as a so-called good news story, where police assisted paramedics to deliver the twins.

By intervening and removing the infants, they saved the babies lives, in my view, said the chief, who described the mother as holding the newborns tightly by the head and neck as their legs dangled. They had to act, the babies were in grave danger.

Chu noted the woman had previous dealings with police related to mental illness but wouldnt elaborate on the incidents.

Under the Mental Health Act, police can arrest a person who is considered a danger to themselves or planning to harm others. That person is then transported to a hospital, which is what happened to the mother from Oppenheimer Park.

Were always concerned as a police department about the mentally ill and the services that are being provided, Chu said. I used to say we are the mental health agency of last resort. Now were almost the mental health agency of first resort.

It is not typical for the VPD to release information about arrests made under the Mental Health Act. But since the department previously released the news about the births, Chu said it was important to release more details of what transpired in the park.

The VPD released its report titled Lost in Transition in 2008. The report suggested a lack of capacity in the mental health system is failing the citys mentally ill and draining police resources.

The key recommendation in that report was for a 24-hour specialized centre for mentally ill people to be built in Vancouver.

Police argued for the centre because they say there is no place in the middle of the night to take people suffering from mental health or addictions problems other than a hospital or jail.

The centre would allow each patient to stay up to 72 hours and have access to housing for up to seven days. A medical team could then properly assess them.

Five years later, the government has yet to act on the request, with then-health minister Margaret MacDiarmid telling the Courier in March she was worried about duplicating resources.

She, instead, pointed to Assertive Community Treatment, or ACT teams, and the ongoing work of the VPDs Car 87 which is staffed by an officer and a nurse as programs dedicated to mental health calls.

mhowell@vancourier.com

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