After increasing demands from the public for legislative change, law enforcement involvement in mental health calls have decreased in the Region of Peel. This follows the shooting of three Toronto residents experiencing mental health crises by police officers this summer.

The Mobile Crisis Rapid Response Teams (MCRRT), a relatively new program within the Peel Police, works to create a safer environment for individuals experiencing psychological distress by partnering police officers with mental health professionals.

During the initial stages of this program, many calls involving individuals struggling with mental health were likely to end in civilian apprehension. However, MCRRT has steadily decreased the number of detainments. Moreover, the involvement of mental health professionals in such emergencies has proven to be quite constructive.

Between October 1 and 22, the MCCRT has responded to 1,530 calls, and hundreds of cases have been resolved without detainment. The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) has been working alongside the Peel police department to continue the program’s success and avoid tragedies like the ones seen this past summer.

On October 20, the William Osler Health System (WOHS) published the Peel Region Police-Hospital Transfer Protocol. This protocol was developed through a collaboration between WOHS, CMHA, Peel Police and Paramedic Services, and the Ontario Provincial police Caledon Detachment.

“Through our collective efforts, we are proud to develop a protocol that will help address stigma and misperceptions about people living with mental illness and addiction,” stated Dr. Naveed Mohammed, the president and CEO of WOHS, in a press release.

Peel Regional Police Staff Sergeant Jodi Dawson spoke to The Star about the MCCRT and plans for the program’s future. Dawson expressed the department’s wishes to expand the program as the current units aren’t large enough to respond to all mental health calls.

“[Peel police have observed a] return on investment of having that mental health professional there to go through triaging incidents, because uniformed officers are not equipped or trained to deal with every mental health-related incident,” stated Dawson.

Although the Peel region still does not have adequate financial means to implement a satisfactory mental health response program within law enforcement, the current initiatives are making admirable advances. 

Catherine Heyer, the CMHA’s clinical director of crisis services for the region, has stated that there is currently only one response team for every 250,000 Peel residents. Although two additional units are expected to be added to the program in the next year, it is not a conclusive solution for such an extensive and systematic issue.

Moreover, the Peel Regional Council has taken action after mass criticism regarding transparency within the Special Investigations Unit (SIU). The lack of racial diversity within the unit caused many residents to demand structural changes and increased accountability as most SIU members came from law enforcement backgrounds themselves. 

The Peel Regional Council passed a motion to address these issues and reform the current structure of mental health response on November 12. Bonnie Crombie, the mayor of Mississauga expressed her support for the new motion at the meeting.

“We’ve known for a long time that we need more transparency accountability in policing, in particular when it comes to SIU investigations,” stated Mayor Crombie. “I’m very proud of my fellow Peel Regional Councillors who took a bold step by unanimously passing this motion.”

Nando Iannicca, the regional chair, has requested in-person meetings with Ontario Premier Doug Ford to further discuss the legislative changes and implementations in the coming months.

“These actions support a safe and healthy Community for Life in Peel, where everyone enjoys a sense of belonging and has access to the services and opportunities they need to thrive throughout each stage of their lives,” stated Iannicca. 

“I look forward to continuing this important discussion with my colleagues in an effort to prioritize and address safety and well-being in Peel, and across our province.”

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