The pilot project would remove unnecessary police presence from mental health-related distress calls
The Toronto executive committee voted to pass the community crisis support service pilot with amendments during a meeting held on Jan. 27.
The pilot, put forth by the city of Toronto, calls for the approval of programs that would see a decrease of police intervention in non-emergency and non-violent situations. This means that when people make mental health-related distress calls, police will not be involved unless necessary.
The report was presented by executive director Denise Campbell. Following the presentation, speakers were given three minutes to share their concerns and answer questions. Most of the concerns revolved around the language being used and the specifics of the project’s operations. Other speakers shared personal stories about their experiences with police.
In a press release, Toronto city manager Chris Murray said the life experiences of Indigenous, Black and LGBTQ communities among others informed the design of the pilots.
“Thousands of people provided us with great insight as to what Toronto residents want and expect in a community crisis support service,” Murray said. “Now we are turning these insights into pilot programs to better serve these communities.”
Upon approval, three pilot programs would be enacted in areas of Toronto with the highest volume of mental health crisis calls, such as northwest and northeast Toronto and Downtown East, including the Toronto Centre ward.
The pilots aim to work alongside health-care providers to ensure care continues after intervention. In addition, teams knowledgeable about mental health and crisis intervention, de-escalation, situational awareness and field training will be created to respond to these crisis situations.
“We can tap into the deep knowledge of our community health-care providers who are experienced in mental health and substance use issues,” said Mayor John Tory. “This will help ensure we focus police resources on violent crimes.”
The fourth pilot aims to help Indigenous communities specifically and promises to be Indigenous-led and co-developed.
This project would cost an estimated $1.7 million and is expected to be fully operational starting 2022.
Steph Rychlo, member of the Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy (CSSDP) at Ryerson, said that they believe replacing police officers with trained professionals, such as social workers, is beneficial because these workers are better equipped to evaluate distress situations and offer proper support. However, Rychlo thinks there’s still more to be done.
“It’s a start but unless there are structural changes, there’s not much that (a social worker) can do other than maybe treating the person (in distress) more like a person than a police officer would,” they said.
The CSSDP hosted a webinar in May 2020 titled “Policing in Postsecondary: No Cops on Ryerson Campus.” The webinar subsequently kicked off their No Cops on Campus campaign, as a response to Ryerson’s special constables project that was axed in June 2020. In the webinar, panellists spoke about the harmful impacts of increased police presence on campus and discussed alternatives to policing.
A 2018 investigation by the CBC revealed that since the year 2000, over 460 people have died during a police encounter in Canada. Of those 460, 42 per cent were found to be suffering from mental distress and 45 per cent were facing substance abuse issues.
The community crisis support service pilot will now be put forth to city council for approval during their Feb. 2 meeting.