Fredericton police to use body cams for mental health calls

Fredericton police are getting ready to launch a pilot project that will use body cameras to link officers with mental health professionals.

Deputy chief Martin Gaudet says it's a way to help the force deal with a growing number of mental health calls.

"I would suggest a lot of calls that we attend have some sort of mental health illness intertwined into it," said Gaudet.

A spokesperson for the force said the project would likely begin within the next few weeks, or months at the latest.

"We're still trying to figure out the bugs," said Gaudet, adding it would be launched "very, very shortly."

Two body cameras have just arrived, said Gaudet, and the force is working with the manufacturer to "see how that works" and share the information with its partners and within the organization.

The number of times police are dispatched to deal with someone in mental distress has been climbing since 2012, said Gaudet, when there were 200 calls in the entire year.

So far this year there have been 623.

That's up from 542 at this time last year and well on the way to surpassing last year's total of 709.

And the numbers are likely still "low balling," he said, because they don't capture every assault or incident of intimate partner violence in which mental health plays a role.

What they do include, said Gaudet, ranges from mild episodes, in which a person needs transportation to the hospital or to another service provider, to acute episodes requiring crisis intervention or arrests under the Mental Health Act.

"The sky is a different colour in their world at that particular moment and the officers need to intervene with whatever other support services we can muster up in the field."

"We can always use whatever help is out there."


Some of these calls can be "quite protracted," said Gaudet.

Officers can spend about an hour talking to an individual before an arrest is made or mobile crisis intervention workers arrive.

That's when the body cameras could be useful, he said.

Video could be livestreamed to the phone or tablet of a "subject matter expert."

"He or she could observe what we are actually seeing at that particular moment," said Gaudet, "and they can give us feedback on where to go, what to do."

The appropriate tactics and approaches are significantly different, said the deputy chief, when dealing with someone who has depression as compared to someone who has schizophrenia.

"Our officers are trained, but we certainly do not have the qualifications that a subject matter expert would have."

The force is currently supported by a mobile crisis team, which includes mental health social workers.

"Those people are rock stars and that system is a godsend," said Gaudet.

"That service is absolutely invaluable," he said. "I think it's a step in the right direction."

But the mobile crisis service only operates Monday to Friday from 4:30 p.m. to midnight and 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. on weekends.

Gaudet suggested perhaps a member of that unit or a psychologist at work or on call at the hospital could respond remotely to a body camera livestream.

Horizon Health said its addiction and mental health services endorse the pilot, but clarified that mobile crisis team members would only be contacted during regular hours of operation.

Since the deaths of George Floyd, Chantel Moore and Rodney Levi, among others, at the hands of police in recent months, there have been increasing calls for police funding to be diverted to other types of intervention services.

Gaudet said Fredericton Police Chief Roger Brown and senior management with the city are in "constant conversation" with city council and the local Black Lives Matter group.

"We want to be part of the solution. But as far as our officers are concerned, they understand their mandate and they have a job to do. And until that mandate changes, they'll keep doing what they do."