RCMP debut mental health liaison officer

Cst. Erin Stevenson introduced to Cranbrook city council, will handle files that have mental health aspects.

Mayor Lee Pratt and council was formally introduced to Cst. Erin Stevenson on Monday night at a city council meeting, who recently stepped into a new role as the RCMP’s Mental Health Liaison Officer.

Cst. Stevenson, who has been with the detachment since January in General Duty, has stepped into the new position, which was created to deal with the rising number of mental health calls that the RCMP have been responding to in the Cranbrook area.

“One thing that is going up is the mental health calls in Cranbrook,” Stevenson said. “and in the two weeks I’ve been in this role, and the 10 months I’ve been in General Duty, I’ve noticed a lot of mental health calls in this community compared to my other two detachments and our partners are saying they’re seeing an increase.”

Cst. Stevenson began her new role on Oct. 5, which was created in consultation with city officials and will work with partner agencies such as the East Kootenay Regional Hospital, Interior Health, Adult and Youth Probation, East Kootenay Addictions Services Society, Ministry of Children and Family Development, and others.

“We get some chronic people that call in as complainants,” Stevenson said. “They’re taking up time at our front desk, they’re taking up time of general duty officers and the complaints might not be true complaints.

“Now, I’m working Monday to Thursday during the day, they can field those calls to me.”

Cst. Stevenson added that the detachment has had one particular complainant call anywhere between 13-20 times a day.

Challenges will include issues such as establishing information-sharing with various mental health organizations so that Stevenson can help a client get the help they need without violating any privacy rights. Sometimes clients are wary of sharing personal information with the police, which makes the partnerships with community health service organizations that much more valuable, she added.

A common complaint from the RCMP is that when apprehending a subject who has mental health issues, it usually involves a trip to the emergency department of the East Kootenay Regional Hospital and it can take hours to hand off custody to a mental health specialist.

Other cases include chronic offenders who have a mental health issue or an addiction issue, which requires working with crown prosecutors to find ways to get them the help they need rather than burrowing further into the criminal justice system.

“This year, one file out of ten have been mental health-related files,” said Sgt. Chris Dodds, who delivered the third quarter crime stats to city council on behalf of S/Sgt. Hector Lee, the Cranbrook detachment commander. “It’s significantly increased in 2016, where last year, at this time, we had 369 mental health files that we attended.

“At this time this year, we have 592, so it’s risen significantly.

“…The biggest thing with Erin’s position is trying to reduce our calls for service when dealing with these subjects, either where we can facilitate getting them into the right facilities or using our community partners, but also, if these people are being accused of some criminal offence, there may be a way to divert these people on to a different path, rather than the criminal path.”