Surge in mental health, missing person files centre around new treatment facility, Coquitlam RCMP report

Police are reporting a strain on resources from responding to mental health and missing person files at a new mental health and addiction treatment facility in Coquitlam.

Coquitlam RCMP Supt. Keith Bramhill presented the detachment’s second trimester (T2) statistics to city council on Monday.

“The one that concerns me the most is the 40 percent increase (over the 3 average) around mental health calls,” Bramhill said.

“Our neighbouring jurisdictions are seeing a slight increase in some of the calls for service around mental health and missing persons, we are seeing a significant increase.”

The numbers show 31 percent of that increase – or 132 of 600 total mental health files in T2 – relate to the Red Fish Healing Centre for Mental Health and Addiction.

The new 105-facility opened in late 2021 on the former grounds of Riverview Hospital, replacing the Burnaby Centre for Mental Health located in Coquitlam.

It houses patients with complex substance abuse and mental health issues, and is part of BC Housing’s master plan for redeveloping Riverview, which formally closed in 2012.

The detachment is averaging five to six missing persons calls a day from the centre, according to Bramhill, who called it “our daily challenge.”

“We must investigate all of these,” he said, adding the facility is low barrier, and half the patients are there voluntarily.

“Ninety-eight percent of them are recovered and brought back, it’s just the amount of labour in the interim.”

Insp. Todd Balaban has been building a working relationship with the facility directors and staff in the hope that the RCMP’s workload can be reduced, according to Bramhill.

The number of missing persons incidents are similar to the former site in Burnaby, Balaban said, but a 2019 change to the B.C. policing standards requires more thorough investigations.

That new standard requires a minimum of 25 hours on each missing person file.

“If you have mental illness and extreme addiction, we have no discretion, so that’s really upped the ante for requirements,” Balaban said.

Coun. Trish Mandewo said they have brought a resolution to the Union of BC Municipalities to try and recoup some of the costs the city is incurring regarding the facility.

The report also showed that the average hospital wait times for officers had ticked up to a high of 97 minutes. The were 53 calls in which officers waited for at least two hours at a hospital. Those 53 calls represent a 10 percent increase from the first quarter.

Coun. Brent Asmundson citicized the provincial government and health authorities, stating they are essentially downloading costs onto local governments.

“We’ve talked about this for a long time . . . It’s a waste of valuable RCMP time that ties up a lot of our RCMP members, especially on mental health files,” he said. “Are we just stuck?”

Bramhill said the detachment is still working through a joint policing committee on the issue, and has been inquiring with Fraser Health to get a psychiatric nurse for a Car 67-type program in the Tri-Cities.

He said wait times frequently depend on the condition of the vulnerable person in hospital, and how busy the hospital is.

“We’re still living in it, hour by hour, and it’s all contingent on our stretched health care system,” Bramhill said.

This is not the first Coquitlam RCMP report of 2022 where a large spike in mental health files was partly attributed to a local social support facility.

Port Coquitlam saw a 44 percent jump in mental health calls compared to its three-average, according to a first-quarter report to its council in May.

Balaban said many of these calls came from the transitional shelter at 3030 Gordon Avenue on the border between Coquitlam and Port Coquitlam.

Officers issued a total of 976 tickets in September, around 44 percent more than were issued in all of T1.

More ticketing is expected to continue in T3 with further training of new general duty officers, and a new requirement that makes some traffic enforcement mandatory for patrol shifts, Bramhill said.

Coun. Craig Hodge said he was pleased to see enforcement stepped up, but it’s difficult to see whether tickets have a real effect on road safety.

“I’m just wondering how we can sort of get a more realistic comparison as we move forward,” Hodge said.

Balaban said they’ve changed their enforcement model to target intersections with the most crashes 25 percent of the time.

Next year they will be measuring whether it had an impact on safety.

Person and property crimes both increased compared to the three-year average.

Person crimes increased 15 percent in T2, driven partly by assaults which were up 8 percent.

Sex offenses decreased by five files, and robbery increased by one file compared to three-year average.

Property crimes increased by 5 percent overall, but an 18 percent increase in fraud cases were seen in the city.

Five hate crimes were reported in T2, in line with the three-year average, though many were vandalism cases. No arrests were made in relation.

Coquitlam RCMP is in the process of setting up an “exchange zone” in front of the detachment, which is intended to offer a safe monitored place to exchange goods from “buy-and-sell” websites.

A Burquitlam Community Police facility is scheduled to open in January.

Patrick Penner, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Tri-Cities Dispatch