New tool to help police officers respond to mental health crises

The Government of Manitoba is investing more than $310,000 in a tool that will help police officers respond to people going through mental health crises.

In an announcement on Monday, the province said the hope is that this new system will help de-escalate potentially dangerous situations.

“We value the work our police agencies do every day to keep us safe and we believe strongly that our front-line officers should be on the street fighting crime. This tool will help them determine risk and the most appropriate next steps so they can focus on protecting our communities from serious crimes,” said justice minister Cliff Cullen in a government news release.

“In some cases, this might mean ensuring someone who is going through a mental health crisis is connected with a community service agency instead of taking them into custody or an emergency room. In other situations, the assessment will help officers recognize when someone is a risk to themselves or others so a more immediate intervention can be made.”

The Manitoba police agencies that will receive this tool called HealthIM are: the Winnipeg Police Service, Brandon Police Service, Manitoba First Nations Police Service, Ste. Anne Police Department, Winkler Police Service, Altona Police Service, Morden Police Service, Rivers Police Department and RCMP detachments om Steinbach, Thompson and Portage la Prairie.

HealthIM, which is an evidence-based risk assessment system, will be installed in patrol cars and other mobile devices. It works by helping officers decide the best way to respond to a person in a mental health crisis based on observations and risk assessment.

“This project is about having tools for the front lines that improve communication, enhance our connected services and ultimately improve outcomes for citizens,” said , Winnipeg Police Service’s Deputy Chief Gord Perrier.

“Managing a crisis is difficult and each situation has different needs. Ensuring appropriate connection, intervention and or care that fits each individual is our goal.”

Depending on the severity of the situation, the use of HealthIM might result in outcomes such as an officer co-ordinating a referral to mental health agency or coming up with an appropriate approach to take a person into custody.

Local emergency rooms, nursing stations and community health agencies will also receive HealthIM receivers for the purposes of sharing information securely and reducing the amount of time police spend in emergency departments.

HealthIM will be installed in police agencies this year.