The Yukon Government and the Whitehorse RCMP have teamed up to help support individuals experiencing mental health emergencies.
The partnership comes in the form of a new mobile crisis response team called Car 867.
The team has two members: an RCMP officer and a trained mental health nurse.
"Programs similar to this have been in place for 10, 15 years or more in various communities across Canada," said Cpl. Brent Edwards, the team lead on behalf of the Whitehorse RCMP.
"Car 867 is the first mobile crisis response team north of 60."
The three-year pilot project's objective is to offer trauma-informed, client-centred responses to mental health emergencies that the RCMP get called to, and to provide early intervention that could potentially divert people away from the criminal justice and hospital systems.
Edwards said officers are trained to deal with mental health emergencies, but that's no substitute for having a trained mental health professional available.
"It bridges that gap," Edwards said.
It also helps with community outreach, he noted — the team could possibly offer community supports, and the mental health nurse can give on-site assessments to help inform the police officer's own assessment of a person.
"Then, if need be for an apprehension, [that] can be provided to a doctor by a trained mental health professional," he explained.
Mental health emergency calls are handled by 9-1-1 operators. Once called, dispatch will determine if Car 867 is appropriate to respond.
When responding to a call, Car 867 will arrive on location to provide on-scene support, providing the unit is available and the call relates to a mental health issue or suicide risk.
Edwards said the unit has been adequately trained and outfitted to handle all types of situations.
"The nurse is provided with soft body armour," Edwards said. "They're identified with a patch on it that says 'nurse' to distinguish from the police officer."
"They are going to get exposure to our training and our 'use of force' matrix — however there's no expectation, and it's not in their description of their role to deal with anything physical in that way."
Edwards said it's standard practice in other jurisdictions as well.
The new unit has only been on the road for a few days, but Edwards said Car 867 has been dispatched to multiple calls each day.
He added there are plans to add a second unit, once a few things are ironed out.
"We're doing some heat mapping in that regard to determine peak periods of operation," Edwards said. "So we can make that into a factor of determining the final schedule once we get two vehicles up and running."
A success in other jurisdictions
Andrea Abrahamson is acting manager of health services with the Yukon Government.
She said she hopes this program is as successful as programs offered in other areas have been, pointing to Hamilton and Guelph — both in Ontario — as examples.
"Hamilton ... they've reduced their apprehension during mental health calls by up to 70 per cent," Abrahamson said. "Guelph has a similar team as well, and diverted approximately 75 per cent of mental health calls from the hospital.
She added that police often respond to mental health calls and end up spending long periods of time in emergency departments.
"It's tieing up police resources and hospital resources and it's still not necessarily the service the individual needs," she said.
"Hopefully this is beneficial to the police, the hospital and the individual."